The Truth Behind Minnesota’s Declining Abortion Rate

Last week, the Minnesota Department of Health released its annual reportdetailing the number of abortions performed in Minnesota, showing once again that the termination rate in Minnesota is declining. 
 
Scott Fischback
The state’s largest anti-choice organization, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, immediately took credit for the drop, citing the introduction of the Positive Alternatives program, put in place in 2005 by the “Positive Alternatives Act”, which promises to provide “resources” to convince women and girls with unintended pregnancies to carry a pregnancy to term rather than choose abortion.
 
“These decreasing abortion numbers confirm that MCCL’s efforts to educate and to provide alternatives for women are working,” said MCCL Executive Director Scott Fischbach in a press statement. “The numbers speak for themselves: Positive Alternatives is providing women with the resources and support they need to choose life for their unborn babies. More women and teens are rejecting the abortion industry’s message that abortion is the answer to an unexpected pregnancy.”
 
Sadly, the only evidence the MCCL can offer as to the effectiveness of the Positive Alternatives program is the state-collected numbers on terminations performed in Minnesota. And when I contacted Positive Alternative’s Coordinator Mary Bochek, she informed me that the program does “not gather data on whether grantees follow program participants throughout their pregnancies to determine if they avoid abortion.” It’s rather difficult to claim that a program is responsible for a specific effect if the program fails to gather data on its impact on that effect.
 
Further, as RH Reality Check’s Senior Political Reporter, Robin Marty, commented, Minnesota’s declining abortion rates are and ongoing trend that seem to track its declining birth rates, and follow a nationwide trend which other authors have attributed to increased access to birth control and better sexual and reproductive health education.
 
Unfortunately, using data from that annual report, it’s difficult to gain an accurate picture of termination rates as the rate in the Annual is determined by comparing the number of abortions performed in Minnesota with the number of total female RESIDENTS of Minnesota. And as the Positive Alternatives program grantees are most likely to service residents of the state, a more accurate picture can be gained by reviewing the states health statistic annual summaries – which contain information on Minnesotan residents, including the number of female residents; the number of reported pregnancies, of live births, and of induced abortions; and the state pregnancy rate – and data from PRAMS includes the rates of unintended pregnancy for Minnesota residents. Using this data, one can extrapolate the abortion rate per resident woman in the state, and the abortion rate per pregnancy:
 
 
 
As the chart above shows, the rates of pregnancy and abortion follow and almost identical slope. Where we do see a slight differentiation between the pregnancy rate and the abortion rate per pregnancy, we also notice a steep drop in the rate of unintended pregnancy. Interestingly enough, though Minnesota has been providing grants to organizations providing family planning services to Minnesotans since 1978, outreach efforts and client services have expanded in recent years. Further, in 2002, Minnesota applied for a 1115 Family Planning Waiver from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which was granted in 2004 and took effect in 2006. These increases in family planning efforts coincide directly with the drop in unintended pregnancy rates.
 
If MCCL truly wants to reduce the number of abortions in Minnesota, perhaps it should focus its efforts on providing quality sexuality and reproductive health education to Minnesotans, as well as making contraception more accessible. Both have been shown to reduce rates of unintended pregnancy, which, unlike the Positive Alternatives program, has actually been shown to reduce abortion rates.

© Heather Parker and Antigone Awakens, 2012-2013.

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