Last month, the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) published its required annual report on abortions in the Commonwealth. The report shows in 2005 there were 34,909 abortions performed in Pennsylvania, a decrease of 3.1% from 2004. The statistics report when the abortions were performed (93.8% first trimester), the ethnicity of the women (56.9% white, 38% black, 6.4% Hispanic), their ages (33.6% age 20-24, 17.1% age 19 and under, etc.), marital status (85% unmarried), and other data.
Any decrease in the number of abortions is worth celebrating; but, what do these statistics really reflect?
In 2005, pregnancy centers statewide receiving state funding through Pennsylvania’s Alternatives to Abortion Program provided 16,344 women with counseling, mentoring, and support throughout their pregnancy and after their baby’s birth.
In a statement released about the abortion statistics, Kevin I. Bagatta, President and CEO of Real Alternatives, Inc., which manages the program said, “We have seen a steady decrease in annual abortions since the start of the (alternatives to abortion) program 12 years ago. Even though we are happy to see the 2005 (number of) resident abortions as one of the lowest on record, we are striving for the day when no woman in the Commonwealth feels that she must have an abortion.”
Real Alternatives can rightly take credit for some reduction in the number of abortions. It can point to the living, breathing babies of its clients as proof. As concerned citizens, readers should contact legislators and advocate for increased funding for this invaluable program.
Interestingly, Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates (PPPA) also released a statement about the statistics claiming credit for the reduced abortions. The group’s president, Susan Gobreski, said, “The link between increased contraceptive use and unintended pregnancy is undeniable. We are very pleased with the 2005 data, and with the continued progress it shows towards a responsible, preventative approach to reproductive health care in the Commonwealth.”
The DOH does not measure data about the women on whom abortions were performed and their birth control habits, but other research does.
The summer 2006 Policy Review of the Guttmacher Institute, a sexual and reproductive health research organization founded by Dr. Alan Guttmacher, former president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, discusses unplanned pregnancy and contraception. Defining “at-risk” women as sexually active and able to become pregnant, but not seeking pregnancy, the article states, “The 11% of at-risk women who do not use contraception account for half of all unplanned pregnancies.”
But who makes up the other half of unplanned pregnancies?
It is reasonable to infer that the other unplanned pregnancies were to women using some form of contraception. Therefore, is it really “undeniable” to say that use of contraception is responsible for the decrease in abortions, as Gobreski claims?
On both sides of this issue, care must be exercised in drawing conclusions from statistics; but that does not mean review of abortion statistics should discontinue. Even the smallest decrease in abortions should be celebrated. But, more must be done to prevent the damage caused by abortion. Our work as champions of life is far from over. That, more than anything else, is what the statistics tell us.
PCC Column March 2007 by Amy Beisel, Communications Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania.