Women’s Health and Abortion in Minnesota

We recently started a series of articles to explain health care jargon and contextualize the information so all Minnesotans can engage in the broader discussion about health care. The previous article in the series described the history of health insurance in the United States and Minnesota.

There is an abundance of misinformation regarding women’s health services and the clinics that provide them. This leads to many harmful proposals to restrict women from  exercising their right to access the health care they need from the provider of their choice. This article will address myths that lead to harmful bills and laws, as well as look at women’s health beyond safe and legal abortion services.

First, women’s health centers operate primarily as family planning clinics, not abortion centers. There are dozens of Title X family planning clinics in Minnesota that have provided family planning and preventive health services for low-income people for over 40 years. Minnesota also has the Family Planning Special Project Grant, which funds outreach, counseling, family planning, and sexually transmitted infection (STI) screening for nearly 90,000 Minnesotans. They vast majority of  these clinics do not perform abortions, and are vital for the health of women of all ages, regardless of income. These clinics also perform cervical cancer and breast cancer screenings, as well as the testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections often at low or no cost to the patient. In Minnesota, only 5 family planning facilities perform elective abortions, and only 1 operates outside of the Twin Cities metro area.

In 2014, approximately 9,760 abortions occurred in Minnesota, with many abortions being provided to women from our neighboring states who’ve experienced prohibitive restrictions through their states laws and regulations. Minnesota’s laws on abortions are somewhat less restrictive compared to our neighbors: there is a 24-hour waiting period, anti-abortion counseling, and parents are notified if a minor wants an abortion. The current rate of abortions is decreasing and as low as when Roe v. Wade legalized elective abortion, as use of contraceptives has increased significantly and unplanned pregnancy and teen pregnancy are near historic lows in Minnesota.

A common myth around abortion is that it is much riskier than giving birth to a child, but actually the opposite is true. In the United States, the maternal mortality rate is not only higher than other industrialized nations, but it is rising. NPR reported that the maternal mortality rate is up to 26.4 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015. That rate is lower in Minnesota, at 14 deaths per 100,000 live births, but that is still higher than the national rates in Europe. In fact, childbirth is either the 6th or 7th leading cause of death for women aged 15 to 34, according to the CDC. By comparison, legal abortions had a mortality rate of 0.65 deaths per 100,000 legal abortions in 2013. This level of risk is on par with your chances of being struck by lightning, and you are more likely to be killed by texting while driving, being the victim of a work accident, or suffering complications from a colonoscopy.

Another common myth is that abortion is not a common practice; however, the Guttmacher Institute estimated that if 2008 abortion rates held, 30% of American women would have an abortion by the time they reached age 45. The rate of abortion has actually decreased since 2008, which has been attributed to effective contraceptive use that reduced unplanned pregnancies.

Finally, claims that women are more likely to develop breast cancer, mental health problems, infertility, and complications during pregnancy are largely scare tactics not grounded in reality. Women experience the same rates of depression following abortions as they do after childbirth, there is no causal link between abortion and breast cancer, and women are still able to conceive, carry, and give birth to children following an abortion.

Hopefully this helps anybody with questions about the basics of women’s health in Minnesota. The next article in the series will cover a related topic: sex education.