For four decades, the Minnesota Department of Health has been tracking the number of abortions in the state. For more than a dozen years, it's been tracking the reasons women give for ending their pregnancies.
One answer that stood out in the 2011 annual report, released July 2, was the economy. Four in 10 women cited "economic reasons" for their abortion -- nearly twice the rate in 1999, the first full year the question was asked.
"A sign of the times," said Tam Helmin, who tracks the abortion trends for Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life.
Last week, when the report came out, the big news was the abortion rate dropping to a 37-year low. But there's more in the report (www.startribune.com/a1462) for Helmin and others who study the patterns over time. She describes herself as MCCL's statistician; she leaves the policy to others.
This year, she said, "probably the newest thing would be the medical abortions" -- those involving the so-called abortion pill, which represented nearly 20 percent of the cases. "That portion of abortion is growing," she said. "It's becoming a more popular method."
Another trend she noticed: Taxes paid for 34 percent of Minnesota abortions last year -- the highest rate since 1995, when Medical Assistance started covering the procedure.
Some numbers, though, barely move over time. Last year, 63 percent of the women said they weren't using contraception when they became pregnant, roughly the same as 12 years ago.
To Planned Parenthood, that's a powerful argument for increasing access to birth control. "It's why we focus on prevention," spokeswoman Jennifer Aulwes said, "and reducing the need for abortion."
I asked Helmin: Is there any common ground here?
"We don't have a position on birth control itself," Helmin said, "because we have members that have different views on that. But it definitely does show that women are using abortion as birth control."