Abortion numbers have increased for the second year in a row in Minnesota — a trend that hasn’t happened in nearly two decades.
The Minnesota Department of Health on Friday reported 10,177 elective terminations of pregnancies in the state last year, compared with 10,017 in 2016 and 9,861 in 2015. While that is less than a 1 percent increase over two years, it runs counter to a decline in abortions that had been occurring since at least 1980. There were 14,477 abortions in 2000.
Advocates and opponents lamented the trend while blaming one another.
“Everybody wants to see a decline in the abortion numbers, frankly,” said Scott Fischbach, executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, but he blamed Planned Parenthood for its self-promotion as the state’s largest provider of abortion services at its St. Paul clinic.
The top executive for Planned Parenthood’s regional affiliate called the increase slight but said it will worsen if President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers gut funding for family planning services that prevent unplanned pregnancies and, by extension, abortions.
“Pursuing a political agenda to make birth control and Planned Parenthood less available to Minnesotans is reckless and could actually increase the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions,” said Sarah Stoesz, chief executive of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota.
A second straight annual increase in the abortion rate, however slight, will intensify an already pitched political battle.
While Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers are fighting in court to block one of the nation’s strictest abortion laws in Iowa, conservatives are calling on Trump to appoint a new U.S. Supreme Court justice who will tilt the federal court’s predisposition on abortion issues.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has also threatened this spring to sue if the president follows through on plans to cut Planned Parenthood off from federal funding.
Planned Parenthood performed 61 percent of the abortions in the state last year, compared to 17 percent in 2000 when there were more active clinics. Only five clinics reported performing more than 100 abortions last year, making Planned Parenthood the lightning rod for abortion opponents in Minnesota.
“Most of the abortion numbers across the state have continued to decline, but not Planned Parenthood’s,” Fischbach said.
Planned Parenthood leaders countered that only 3 percent of the organization’s services involve abortion, and that it is more engaged in family planning and contraception services designed to prevent unplanned pregnancies.
If anything, spokeswoman Jen Aulwes blamed this year’s slight increase on restrictive abortion legislation in Iowa and Wisconsin that forced clinics to close and left patients with little place to turn but Planned Parenthood in Minnesota. Nonresidents coming to Minnesota for abortions accounted for 65 percent of the increase in procedures in from 2016 to 2017, the state report shows.
National studies from the Guttmacher Institute have found no change in recent years in the proportion of women who have unplanned pregnancies and then opt for abortions. If attitudes were turning against abortion, that proportion should have changed. Instead, the organization concluded that better sex education and contraception access is making a difference.
Planned Parenthood leaders cited examples like their training of sexual health educators this past Thursday, in which educators from across the state filled out sheets expressing their beliefs about controversial sexual health issues, then crumpled them in balls and tossed them to others, who then had to represent them.
Differences emerged as educators addressed questions, such as, “Is it important to be in love with your partner before you have sex?”
“It’s important to establish a connection,” one educator said, “and intimacy before you give yourself to someone else.”
“Love can be one” consideration, another said, “but you don’t have to have a checklist.”
Teaching educators to see a variety of views can help them neutralize their own values when teaching youth, which in turn makes them more credible, Aulwes said. If students feel their values are being rejected, “they’ll disengage, and they won’t learn.”
Abortions continued to decline among teens last year, despite the increase in procedures among older women. Advocates on both sides credited teens for focusing on their futures and assessing how unprotected sex and unplanned pregnancies could interfere.
“That age group provides hope for the future,” Fischbach said.
The impact of contraception in preventing abortions last year was unclear. The state Health Department decided in the 2017 report to eliminate information from women about whether they used contraception before abortions, because the self-reported information was unreliable. Prior studies, though, showed that most abortions occurred among women who hadn’t used contraception.
Economics appeared to play less of a role, as only 24 percent of women reported financial concerns as reasons for their abortions. That was the lowest rate since 2004. However, 43 percent of women who received abortions last year qualified for Medical Assistance or other state public programs due to low incomes.
More than 40 percent of women who underwent abortions last year had previously had one.