The state's most active anti-abortion group is taking credit for what appears to be a significant drop in the number of women terminating their pregnancies.
Figures from the state Department of Health Services show that from August 2010 through July of 2011 there were 14,706 abortions performed in Arizona. For the same period running through this past July, the total was 13,627.
On the surface, that 7.3 percent drop appears to conflict with the annual report of abortions the health department released earlier this week. That showed a 25 percent jump among Arizona residents between 2010 and 2011.
But even state Health Director Will Humble acknowledged that report had a built-in problem: It was built on January through December figures and the state changed its reporting method in August of 2010, making comparisons between the two full years questionable at best.
These numbers, by contrast, all come within the time of the online reporting. Humble said they should be comparable.
More to the point, from the perspective of Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, the figures for late 2011 and early this year reflect implementation of a series of laws imposing new requirements and restrictions on abortion providers.
One restriction that took effect in August 2011 requires women to first have a face-to-face consultation with a doctor at least 24 hours before an abortion. Until then, that information could be provided by telephone by specially trained nurse practitioners.
Arizona law also was changed so that specially trained nurse practitioners could no longer perform abortions, whether surgical or done with the administration of a drug.
The result of that latter change was immediate: Planned Parenthood announced that month it would no longer offer abortions at seven of its 10 Arizona locations.
Those measures and others all were approved with significant drafting help and lobbying from Herrod's organization.
Those are all measures crafted by the Center for Arizona Policy, where she is president.
Herrod acknowledged that her organization's goal is eventually to outlaw elective abortions entirely. But she denied that this is part of a plan to impose so many roadblocks that abortion effectively becomes impossible to legally obtain in Arizona.
"The goal is to provide alternatives for a woman facing a crisis pregnancy, provide the woman with accurate information about the risks and alternatives to abortion, and provide for the preborn child,'' she said. Herrod agreed, though, that she considers any abortion unacceptable.
"The facts are abortion hurts women and it takes the life of a preborn child,'' she said. "That remains a significant concern for anyone in this state who is pro-life.''
The reduction in the number of abortions was all but predicted by Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, when he announced that some of his organization's sites would no longer perform abortions.
He said the prohibition against abortions by nurse practitioners left Planned Parenthood with just six full- and part-time doctors to handle nearly 10,000 abortions a year. And some of their time would have to be spent in those state-mandated face-to-face doctor meetings with patients ahead of time.
The result of the doctor-only restriction, Howard said, is that abortions, once available at all 10 Planned Parenthood sites around the state, now are being offered only in Glendale, Tempe and one of the organization's two Tucson locations.
But Howard, in a prepared statement Wednesday, said he believes the drop will be temporary.
He claimed "an upsurge in the number of physicians ready to provide abortion care,'' though the organization did not provide specifics. And Howard said the numbers are now closer to historical norms.
"Very disappointing for rural Arizona women, however, is the fact that there is still no replacement of providers in rural areas,'' he said.
Herrod said she does not believe the restrictions have created significant problems for women living outside the state's two major metropolitan areas.
"Women living in rural areas certainly have access to medical services in Phoenix or Tucson,'' she said. "So that's not the issue.''
Herrod said the number of abortions are declining because women are being given more information about alternatives.
Among the things the law now requires women to be told include:
- the probable anatomical and physiological characteristics of the unborn child at the time of the procedure;
- that the father of the child is liable for support, even if he agreed to pay for the abortion
- that medical assistance benefits may be available for prenatal care, childbirth and postnatal care if the woman decided against an abortion;
- that public and private agencies can assist the woman before and after the birth, whether she chooses to keep the child or put it up for adoption.