Abortion is emotional and contentious on both sides of the issue. Each faction has sincerely held beliefs and appeals to fundamental human rights.
With the Dobbs decision looming in June, feelings are intensifying even more. It would be easy to retreat to the comfort of our pro-life or pro-choice bubbles and ignore the hard work necessary to make abortion less divisive.
Pro-life advocates have a genuine desire to reduce abortions, regardless of the legal status of abortion rights in our state. Pro-choice advocates have a genuine interest in ensuring women have choices in their pregnancies and reject coercion of any kind. It is a reasonable assumption that both prolife and prochoice advocates would be in favor of reducing barriers to continuing pregnancies, especially those confronting low-income women and women of color.
So how do we start to move from our entrenched positions to a more cooperative posture? I believe by agreeing on a set of facts that accurately depicts abortion in Colorado. Accurate abortion vital statistics can show the demographics and magnitude of the issue, the causes of unplanned pregnancies and the drivers of abortion demand in Colorado.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is tasked with collecting legally mandated abortion vital statistics. The data required is limited to demographic and procedural information.
Unfortunately, we know from independent research by the Guttmacher Institute that even this limited data is off by a factor of 40%. We also know that the number of abortions at later gestational ages can vary in the data by as much as 55% per year – which is not credible.
This means that the state health department spends time and money collecting partial data that does not reflect the reality of abortion in Colorado. This partial data, in turn, corrupts the national data collected from the states by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It is nearly impossible, without accurate vital statistics, to develop evidence-based programs to address all the issues that drive abortion demand in our state.
Without accurate data, we are unable to reliably assess the impact of current or planned public programs, such as paid family leave, subsidized daycare, or a refundable child tax credit, on abortion rates. It makes it more difficult to determine the effect that family planning interventions on abortion rates, such as programmatic long-acting reversible contraceptives.
Clinicians know we need accurate abortion data to conduct high quality maternal-health, child, and reproductive-health research to improve the lives of Coloradans. Abortion-rights organizations such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Guttmacher Institute have both made impassioned pleas for accurate abortion data.
This is why HB22-1075, introduced by Rep. Stephanie Luck, is so important.
Her bill, if passed into law, would create incentives for abortion providers to submit complete abortion data. It would add the method of family planning and the reasons for the abortion to the nine demographic variables already reported. It reinforces the need for a complete medical history prior to the abortion procedure to reduce complications and prevent future unplanned pregnancies.
And the survey of abortion providers this bill requires will be an additional prompt to assist medical providers in the complex task of flagging women who are being sex trafficked and victims of intimate partner abuse.
HB22-1075 does nothing to impede access to abortion. The information that would be required should already be part of a routine pre-abortion procedure history and counseling. It would be malpractice for an abortion provider to perform the procedure without understanding the family planning method, if any, utilized by the woman seeking the abortion and the reason(s) that drove the decision to pursue abortion.
Unless a doctor inquires into these matters, the woman could be at risk for recurrent unplanned pregnancies and repeat abortion; the doctor may miss evidence of intimate-partner abuse or whether the woman genuinely is ambivalent and seeking options.
Furthermore, the data that would be required would be aggregated, protecting the confidentiality of individual women undergoing abortion procedures. It would not be an abortion registry, as some opponents misleadingly characterize the measure. Because it calls for an all-online process to submit data, it will not have a negative impact on the workflow of abortion providers.
What HB22-1075 will do is give pro-life and pro-choice activists a common set of reliable data to work from. For perhaps the first time, we can collaborate to formulate meaningful public/private policies and programs to reduce unplanned pregnancies, and to address the specific needs of pregnant Colorado women and their families. It can be the basis of life-saving research.
It is my hope that all Coloradans, and especially Colorado legislators, recognize the value of accurate public health vital statistics and will support this important legislation.
Thomas Perille, of Englewood, is a retired internal medicine and hospital medicine physician and president of Democrats for Life of Colorado. He is a fellow of the American College of Physicians and Society of Hospital Medicine.
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