The Pennsylvania Department of Health released the 2016 Abortion Report just after New Years, 2018, and it is encouraging in every way for people who are troubled by the enormous numbers of abortions performed in the State. It is somewhat troubling for us as an organization devoted to advertising pregnancy medical centers in Allegheny County and the region, for reasons which I will explore below. In any case, we are learning things that will help us keep driving down the numbers of abortions performed in the County.
First, the good news. Here's a chart that shows that the annual numbers of abortions in PA are falling. We thank God! Further, the ratios of abortions to live births continues to fall. What does this mean? The proportion of pregnancies that are "intended" (or, perhaps, welcomed, would be the better adjective) is relatively stable, we are told. Women who abort come almost entirely from the "unintended" category. If the proportion of women who have unintended pregnancies has not changed significantly over the years, then more women with unintended pregnancies are choosing life.
There is also the possibility that the use of so-called emergency contraception (ella, Plan B) has reduced unintended pregnancies, and thus, abortions. (There is still some dispute about whether these drugs prevent ovulation or interfere with the implantation of newly conceived human beings.) While we may be unsure about how these drugs work in every instance, we know that fewer women are having later surgical and chemical (so-called "medical") abortions.
What about Pittsburgh and Allegheny County? Here we see that abortion numbers, having dropped from 2008 to 2013, seem to have hit a "floor."
The same is true if we look at the ratios of abortions to 1,000 live births.
Our advertising work has proceeded on the assumption that raising the profile of pregnancy medical centers would drive abortion numbers and ratios lower, as more women became aware of the centers. (A 2014 Charlotte Lozier Institute poll found that 53% of American women did not know that there was a pregnancy help center in their communities, or "knew" that there wasn't one. In fact, there are over 2,700 centers, and every community has one, or one nearby.) Our advertising to the general demographic (women 16-28 or thereabouts) has been ongoing since 2014, and anecdotal evidence suggests that many more women know about the centers now than did before we began. Perhaps we have saturated "the market," and we can't expect to see the numbers go lower.
On the other hand, in 2017 we employed Ad America to improve how Women's Choice Network and Choices Pregnancy Services appeared in Google search results for queries like "abortion pill." This was wildly successful: Women's Choice Network in particular saw numbers increase 45 percent, and had to appeal for more support (successfully, I might add). We will keep doing what we can to put Choices and Women's Choice Network in front of women considering abortion. We will wait with anticipation to see if this work will have had an effect on 2017's numbers.
If abortion ratios are only staying low in Allegheny County, birth numbers are not declining significantly, which may not the case in Philadelphia. (Philly is so big, and the swing of its numbers, up and down, so dramatic, that it's hard to know if one is seeing a trend or statistical "noise.")
So, if Allegheny County's abortion numbers and ratios don't seem to be going down, what do we do next? Well, we note that the gap is large between the total number of abortions performed in Allegheny County, and the number of abortions performed on residents.
Some, and perhaps all, of the difference is made up of women coming from surrounding counties. In the following chart we divide these counties into two groups, the "First Tier," which includes the closest, and the "Second Tier," which are those farther afield. (These groups were distinct viewing areas in our original television advertising.) The graph below "stacks" the statistics on top of one another. You can see that the farther you get from Pittsburgh, the fewer the abortions (and the fewer the births).
Do the official statistics from these surrounding counties make up the difference between Allegheny County residents and all of the abortions performed here? No. When we add the total number of abortions performed in Allegheny County to the stacked statistics above, we see this.
The chart might lead us to think that a large number of women are coming from beyond the "Second Tier" counties. This, I think, is unlikely. Another possibility is that these women are coming from colleges in the Pittsburgh area, and are not giving their PA counties as their residences. So, for example, State College has 47,000 students, yet Centre County residents officially had only 139 abortions in 2016. Yet, officially too, only 1,667 abortions were performed in all of PA on women from other countries or states that year. These things just don't add up. (It is possible that the residencies are not being recorded properly for one reason or another, which brings into question the accuracy of all of the residency reports.)
In any case, "the fields are white unto harvest" outside of Allegheny County, too. We have begun advertising work with Alpha-Omega in Slippery Rock and New Castle. There are many schools and colleges in their area, and we look forward to seeing the results. There are other centers outside Pittsburgh, too, that are similarly situated. We look forward to breaking new ground, and, with God's help, reducing abortion numbers and ratios in Southwestern PA in the year ahead.
Chris Humphrey, Executive Director
Vision for Life - Pittsburgh
Chris Humphrey has been involved in pro-life activity of one kind or another since the late 1970s, when he first looked at the subject of abortion in seminary in Canada. He has an undergraduate degree in English (University of Toronto), and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in religious studies (McGill). He has had a varied career as a pastor, chaplain in a psychiatric hospital, editor of academic and instructional publications, semi-professional photographer, and home renovator. He is a husband of over 45 years to Edith (a Professor of New Testament), father to three girls, and grandfather to seventeen grandchildren. He lives and works in the Stanton Heights neighborhood of Pittsburgh.