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Abortions drop nearly 50% within diocese since 2011

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The number of abortions performed in Virginia dropped 39 percent from 2011 to 2017, and the number of abortions performed within the geographical boundaries of the Diocese of Arlington dropped 48 percent, according to the most recent data from the Virginia Department of Health. In the diocese, there were 25,404 abortions performed in hospitals and abortion clinics in 2011 compared to 15,381 in 2017, the latest year for which data is available.

The local decrease mirrors the national trend — in 2017, the U.S. abortion rate dropped to 13.5 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44, the lowest rate recorded since abortion was legalized in 1973, according to the Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood. Their study, released in September, also reports that abortion rates fell in most states and in all four regions of the country.

There are different theories as to why the precipitous drop. There is no national requirement to report abortions, and some states such as Maryland and California do not collect abortion data at all. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “States and areas voluntarily report data to CDC for inclusion in its annual Abortion Surveillance Report. There is no national requirement for data submission or reporting.”


The Guttmacher Institute, which collects its own data, while acknowledging that many states passed anti-abortion laws during that time frame, attribute the decrease to “improvements in contraceptive use and increases in the number of individuals relying on self-managed abortions outside of a clinical setting,” that is, ordering pills that induce abortions online. 

Locally, four abortion clinics in Northern Virginia closed during those years — Planned Parenthood in Falls Church; NOVA Healthcare and Virginia Health Group in Fairfax; and Amethyst Health Center for Women, Inc., in Manassas. The three remaining clinics in Falls Church and Alexandria performed more abortions as their counterparts closed, but the region’s overall total still decreased. 

It doesn’t appear that Washington’s abortion clinics made up for the loss in Virginia as the district experienced an 8 percent decrease in abortions 2014-17. In those same years, however, Maryland experienced a 7 percent increase in the number of abortions, according to Guttmacher. 

Olivia Gans Turner, president of the Virginia Society for Human Life, attributes some of the decline to increased awareness of fetal development. “We’re not living in the dark ages anymore where we don’t know what happens during pregnancy, and that’s affecting the abortion equation,” she said. “Everybody has a friend, a relative, a sister whose happily had an ultrasound and shared that ultrasound image with the rest of the family. So more and more women, often young women, are exposed to the reality that when they’re pregnant, this is not a blob of tissue — this is someone.”

Amy McInerny, director of the diocesan Respect Life Office, believes the services of the many local crisis pregnancy centers and other pro-life organizations have contributed to fewer abortions. Some groups increased their efforts — A Woman’s Choice in Falls Church opened a second location in Herndon in 2016. Angela Clark of A Best Choice Mobile Ultrasound and Pregnancy Resource Center began operating the traveling center in 2011. In the past two years, they’ve served 265 women, performed 195 ultrasounds and know of 64 babies born. 

“I think it’s not one but many factors really — a symphony of support making abortion unnecessary,” said McInerny. “The more people that get that message, the more people that choose life.”

Judge rules in Virginia abortion case

U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson issued a mixed ruling Sept. 30 in a case brought by abortion providers against the commonwealth of Virginia. The judge upheld that only physicians can perform an abortion and maintained that women must get an ultrasound and wait 24 hours before getting an abortion. He ruled that imposing certain hospital building regulations on abortion clinics and requiring second-trimester abortions be performed in a hospital setting would be unduly burdensome.

The Virginia Society for Human Life welcomed the ruling. “(We) know that laws like the ultrasound requirement and 24-hour waiting period provide women with critical information about their unborn child and time to reconsider the irreversible decision they might be about to make for themselves and their child,” the organization said in a press release. 

Olivia Gans Turner, president of VSHL, also was pleased the ruling recognized that abortion carries enough risk and danger to the well-being of the woman to mandate it be performed by a physician. “If the door had been opened here, it would have created the wedge for that decision to roll over into the rest of the country,” she said. “The Supreme Court has never opened the door to non-physicians being allowed to performed abortions. It would’ve been a really terrible precedent for the rest of the country and for the safety and well-being of women.”

The decision is expected to be appealed.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019