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Martinsville Bulletin, Inc.
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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Abortion numbers down by almost 90%
County, city cases declined since 1995

Sunday, January 26, 2014

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

The annual number of abortions for Henry County residents declined from 199 in 1995 to 20 in 2012 — nearly 90 percent.

For Martinsville residents, the number fell from 27 to 12 — about 56 percent — for the same period, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

Abortion during early stages of pregnancy became legal 41 years ago last Wednesday with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Roe v. Wade.

Locality statistics immediately available on the health department website do not go back to 1973. They are available generally from the mid-1990s through 2012.

They show the abortion rate for Henry County residents declined from 16.6 per 1,000 females aged 15-44 in 1995 to 2.3 per 1,000 in 2012 — about an 86 percent drop. The abortion rate for Martinsville residents declined from 8.5 per 1,000 to 4.9 per 1,000 for that period — a 42 percent drop.

The abortion rate for Virginia residents declined from 16.5 per 1,000 in 1995 to 12.8 per 1,000 in 2012 — a 22 percent drop.

Abortion numbers and rates (and other statistics in this article) fluctuated from year to year. They did not decline in a straight line and may have increased some years.

Education and contraception may be among the factors responsible for the decline in abortions, said Dr. Margaret “Molly” O’Dell, acting health director for West Piedmont Health District, which includes the counties of Henry, Franklin and Patrick and the city of Martinsville.

“I think the interesting thing to do is to look at these numbers and look at the overall pregnancy numbers in each year, teen pregnancy numbers and numbers of pregnancies to unmarried moms to get the real picture,” O’Dell said. “Also, the age-specific categories of abortions may fluctuate. Abortions are usually related to unintended pregnancies but may be medically indicated.”

Fewer women of reproductive age, widespread use of contraceptives and teen abstinence campaigns all can impact the numbers of pregnancies and hence the numbers of abortions, according to published reports.

From 1996 to 2012 Virginia’s overall population grew nearly 24 percent (from 6,620,586 to 8,185,867), Henry County’s declined about 6.7 percent (from 56,743 to 52,969) and Martinsville’s declined 12.2 percent (from 15,640 to 13,733), according to Virginia Department of Health (VDH) data.

According to VDH, from 1994-2008 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), total pregnancies increased nearly 10 percent for Virginia residents, decreased 25 percent for Henry County residents (from 906 to 677) and decreased 3 percent (from 289 to 280) for Martinsville residents.

From 1996 to 2012 the total numbers of teen pregnancies declined about 46 percent for Virginia residents, nearly 63 percent (from 147 to 55) for Henry County residents and nearly 38 percent (from 45 to 28) for Martinsville residents, the VDH reported.

From 2003 through 2012, the period for which statistics were available on the VDH website, the total numbers of unmarried women getting abortions declined nearly 23 percent for Virginia residents, nearly 74 percent (from 53 to 14) for Henry County residents and nearly 86 percent (from 77 to 11) for Martinsville residents.

O’Dell said she believes another factor in the falling abortion rates may have been the so-called morning-after pill. According to the Mayo Clinic website, the morning-after pill is a type of emergency birth control designed to prevent pregnancy after a woman has had unprotected sex.

O’Dell said the morning-after pill “has been more and more accessible over the last decade. When I started in this business, there wasn’t a morning-after pill. If the condom broke, you were stuck.”

Some of the morning-after pills have to be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex or birth control failure, but one can be taken within five days, according to O’Dell and online information.

O’Dell said another factor may have been the national movement for using long-acting reversible contraception. They include a birth control shot that lasts three months; an intrauterine device that lasts 5-10 years; and an implant inserted under the skin that lasts three years, she said in a previous interview.

Another factor, she believes, is the education and access to contraceptives provided at the teen health center at Martinsville High School. The center, a collaboration between the health department and Martinsville City Public Schools, provides services including education, counseling, pregnancy tests, pelvic exams, writing and distributing prescriptions for contraceptives and distributing condoms, officials have said.

The center started in the 2009-10 school year. According to VDH data, the total number of teen pregnancies (ages 10-19) declined from 45 in 2008 to 28 in 2012 for Martinsville residents — a drop of nearly 38 percent.

O’Dell also said she wondered about access to abortion providers.

The number of known abortion providers in Virginia declined from 81 in 1982 to 40 in 2008, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which deals with sexual and reproductive health and rights through research, policy analysis and public education.

A factor in the national decline in the numbers of abortions over time is the increased number of state restrictions on abortions, according to the institute and news media reports.

“Overall, it’s a good thing the rates of induced terminations (abortions) are going down because it’s a traumatic experience for anybody,” O’Dell said.


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