A new report shows a sharp increase in the number of Arizona women having abortions last year.
Figures from the Department of Health Services put total abortions for Arizona women at 13,606. That is a 25 percent jump from 2010.
It's also the highest figure in the last decade. And it means there were 16 abortions for every 100 live births.
But state Health Director Will Humble said he cannot say for sure that really means more pregnancies were terminated in 2011 than before. He said it may just be that his agency, armed with a new law that took effect in mid 2010, is just getting a better data.
Humble said, though, that one thing is clear: The number of teens getting pregnant in the first place continues to drop.
More to the point, he said that's not because these pregnancies are ending in abortions. In fact, Humble said, that the number of teen abortions actually is shrinking -- even in the face of better reporting.
The report also reveals that there were 188 abortions performed in Arizona last year to women who were at least in their 20th week of their pregnancy, about 1.4 percent of the total.
That issue is significant because state lawmakers voted earlier this year to ban all abortions beyond the 19th week of gestation, as measure from a woman's last menstrual cycle, unless necessary to prevent a woman's death or "substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.''
A federal judge blocked the state from enforcing the law to give foes a chance to argue that the ban is unconstitutional because the cutoff is before viability, generally determined to be between 22 and 24 weeks. The state is now asking the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn that ruling.
But the raw statistics -- and the one-year jump -- has left those on both sides of the issue scratching their heads and wondering what, if anything, it means.
"We will be analyzing the data reported to determine its value,'' said Cathi Herrod, president of the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy. She said that, given the change in the reporting, those 2011 figures may be meaningful only when finally compared to the numbers for 2012.
But Herrod said the pure numbers -- which actually top 14,000 when including residents of other states that have abortions in Arizona -- are "tragic.''
"That's over 14,000 women who faced a crisis pregnancy and thought they had no solutions other than to have an abortion,'' she said.
Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona chose to focus on other elements in the report.
One, he said is his conclusion that abortion "continues to be an extremely safe medical service,'' with only 60 recorded complications among the 13,606 Arizona women. And he said more than 90 percent of all abortions are performed in the first trimester.
But Cynde Cerf, a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman, said her organization cannot confirm Humble's conclusion that the big year-over-year jump is just better reporting. In fact, she said the number of abortions in the last few years has remained relatively constant.
She does not, however, have actual comparable numbers: Planned Parenthood, the state's largest abortion provider, keeps its records on the basis of fiscal years that begin Oct. 1.
Humble said the old system essentially involved abortion providers filing paper reports. He said that often led to problems keeping track of the data.
The new system, he said, requires all clinics and doctors to file electronic reports. Humble said that mandate, coupled with better training of abortion providers and their staffs, should mean better data from now on to make comparisons.
Still, Humble said there are some valid comparisons that can be made.
The big one, he said, deals with teens.
In 2000, for example, he said that more than 20 percent of abortions were performed on those younger than age 20. By this past year, he said, that figure had dropped to just slightly more than 13 percent.
And Humble said there has been more or less a steady decline in the teen pregnancy rate since 2000 -- though there was a bump in 2007 among 18- and 19-year-olds -- all of which shows him that youngsters are managing not to get pregnant in the first place.
That's reflected in the pure numbers for teen abortions.
In 2009, there were 1,785 abortions for those younger than 20. That dropped to 1,512 in 2010.
And last year, even with the enhanced reporting -- and that 23 percent hike overall -- the number of teen abortions reported went up by just seven.
But here, too, Humble said he cannot say for certain what is the cause.
He said his agency administers federal and state money for both a program that promotes abstinence as the lone method of preventing pregnancy as well as one that also provides helpful information on birth control for teens who are sexually active.
Humble said he's willing to try anything.
"My attitude is, if we've got some funding and we can get it out there to reduce teen pregnancy, let's do it,'' he said.
"It's not going to work for every young woman or every teen,'' Humble continued. "But the more tools you can get out there to reduce teen pregnancy, the better.''
And Humble figures a drop in teen pregnancies means the need for fewer teen abortions.
The issue has been politically contentious.
In 2008, then-Gov. Janet Napolitano directed Humble to stop accepting federal dollars for a program designed to promote abstinence prior to marriage. Napolitano said the fact is that some teens do have sex and "they need to have complete information for their own health, for their own bodies.''
Humble managed to find some state funds, though, to keep that program alive. And the following year, after Napolitano quit to take a job in the Obama administration, Gov. Jan Brewer told Humble to again seek federal cash.