Florida abortions dip, but not as high as other states

MIAMI (AP) — The number of abortions performed in Florida dropped by 10 percent between 2010 and 2014, but the decrease is less than in other Republican-led states that have more aggressive restrictions on the procedure.

Roughly 72,100 abortions were performed in Florida in 2014, a 9.7 percent dip from about 79,900 in 2010, according to state health records. The number of abortion clinics has remained steady at about 70 during the time period.

Florida lawmakers in April passed a new measure, but it’s unclear what impact it will have. The bill requires a woman make one trip to the clinic for legally required counseling before coming back 24 hours later for the procedure. Republican Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign the measure into law.

Some opponents say 24-hour waiting periods are meaningless because studies show more than 90 percent of patients make up their minds about an abortion before making an initial appointment. Requiring two trips would create problems for low-income women taking time off work and arranging travel and child care and come up with about $500 for the procedure.

“That could have some impact on access when it goes into effect,” said Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research and advocacy group. But overall she said the laws adopted in Florida “haven’t closed clinics in the same we way as we have seen in Texas and Ohio.”

Florida’s decline is modest compared to states like Arkansas, Ohio, Oklahoma, Missouri and Indiana, where abortion figures have dropped by more than 15 percent since the adoption of some of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the country. The annual number of abortions has declined substantially since 2010 in most U.S. states. But the declines are perplexing because they are not concentrated in states with restrictive laws and are equally spread among liberal states like New York where rights have been protected.

Nash said the recession and increased use of long-term birth control measures such as the IUD reduced pregnancies has also led to a decline in abortions in Florida and elsewhere. More people have health insurance under President Barack Obama’s health overhaul giving them greater access to free birth control. Florida’s Planned Parenthood facilities distributed 65,300 contraception services in 2013 for 80,000 men, women and teens.

“We certainly see more people using their insurance at our health centers and being able to afford their birth control without that co-pay, so it’s a great benefit,” said Laura Goodhue, a vice president for Planned Parenthood.

Anti-abortion activist John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, said small steps like the 24-hour wait show “we’re gradually winning this battle,” but notes that abortion opponents still face plenty of obstacles in Florida.

He’s concerned that the Sunshine State has become a destination state for abortions because it hasn’t had a wait restriction like Alabama and Georgia, until now. Anti-abortion advocates also question whether the laws in place are actually being enforced. For example, a requirement that doctors give women the option of viewing their fetus via an ultrasound before an abortion is difficult to monitor, he said.

“How do you know? How do you enforce that?” Stemberger said.

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