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Parallels between abortion, recession unclear

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(Lauren M. Anderson – landerson@nwherald.com)
Pat Griffin sorts through a box of baby clothing at First Way Pregnancy Support Services in Johnsburg. The center offers a variety of services, including pregnancy information, parenting classes and maternity and baby supplies. Johnsburg is one of two locations for First Way Pregnancy Support Services; the second is in Harvard.

Raising children is costly. Raising children during the worst economic recession in decades is even more costly.

So it didn’t surprise Connie Freund when phone calls and foot traffic began climbing at the agency she leads, First Way Pregnancy Support Services.

“We see a lot more people calling that normally wouldn’t call us,” said Freund, whose group provides counseling, clothing and other resources to mothers in need. “We get people coming in who were told that [we] have diapers.”

As mothers navigate the tough economy, many are turning to agencies such as First Way to support their children. However, it’s unclear whether these trying times have persuaded other women to use abortion to avoid recession-time motherhood altogether.

The recession began in December 2007, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. However, the most recent federal data on abortion is from 2006, and the most recent state figures are from 2008. Further, a historical look at the correlation between abortion figures and economic trends since 1969 doesn’t convey any distinct relationships between the two.

Between 2007 and 2008, there was no significant change in the number of abortions performed on McHenry County women, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. In 2007, 564 abortions were performed on women who live in the county. That number declined slightly to 562 in 2008.

There was a significant jump in the number of abortions performed on McHenry County women between 2006 and 2007 – only 352 abortions were performed on county women in 2006. However, it’s statistically unlikely that the spike happened during the first month of the recession. Also, the 2006 figure is an anomaly when compared with figures dating to 1996.

Nationally, the abortion rate has followed a variety of patterns during recessionary times.

The most recent recession was from May 2001 to November 2001, according to the bureau. That year, the national abortion rate was 16 abortions for every 1,000 women between ages 15 and 44. That rate was the same in 2000 and between 2002 and 2005, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The bureau marked July 1981 to November 1982 as the second most recent recession. But between 1981 and 1983, the abortion rate actually declined to 23 from 24 abortions for every 1,000 women ages 15 to 44, according to the federal data.

It could be years before statistical data about the current recession and abortion rates is available.

“Because of the time it takes to collect the data, we won’t have information until about 2011,” said Laura Lindberg, a researcher with the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights policy group.

Planned Parenthood declined to release any statistical data or comment about the recession’s impact on the abortion rate for this article.

However, The Associated Press in March reported that Planned Parenthood CEO Steve Trombley said that Planned Parenthood of Illinois clinics performed “an all-time high number” of abortions in January, many of them motivated by the women’s economic worries. Trombley also declined to provide any numerical data to The Associated Press but said abortions at Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis-area clinics were up almost 7 percent in the second half of 2008 from a year earlier.

Dee Manny, president of McHenry County Citizens for Choice, said it wouldn’t be surprising if financial concerns became a more prominent factor in abortion considerations.

“Pregnancy is a medical condition, and people have to make their decision from a number of factors,” Manny said. “Certainly [the economy] has become a big issue.”

National abortion-rights advocates have painted a bleak picture of the poor’s ability to pay for abortions during the recession.

“Some women sell their personal belongings, they sell even their blood to obtain the funds they need to pay for abortion care,” said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation.

Saporta said abortions typically cost about $400 during the first trimester of pregnancy, and the fee increases as the fetus continues developing.

But Irene Napier, president of Right to Life McHenry County, said women don’t need to take such drastic measures.

“[Abortion] isn’t at all necessary,” Napier said. “There’s such a proliferation of crisis pregnancy centers and birth rights and the expenses are all covered. And then there’s always the adoption option.”

First Way has locations in Harvard and Johnsburg, and Tri-County Pregnancy & Parenting Services has offices in Crystal Lake and neighboring Grayslake.

Napier said that if women instead turned to abortion clinics, such as the Planned Parenthood location in Aurora, they might be acting hastily.

“They’re just thinking nine months ahead, six months, whatever their term is,” Napier said. “The birth of another human being is the long-term benefit to society.”

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