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Pro-life laws aren't the only thing putting abortionists out of business

A man walks past the site of a former abortion center in El Paso, Texas. Associated Press/Photo by Juan Carlos Llorca

Pro-life laws aren't the only thing putting abortionists out of business

In the past five years, abortion facilities have closed rapidly—nearly 31 each year. While pro-life advocates celebrate the trend, abortion advocates call it “disturbing” and blame it on the recent influx of state legislation regulating the facilities’ building standards.

At least 30 facilities closed in Texas alone after the state passed its 2013 law requiring surgical center standards—legislation currently under review by the U.S. Supreme Court. But state legislation caused only about one-quarter of the total facility closings in all 50 states, according to Bloomberg data.

And traditionally liberal states aren’t immune to abortion center closures, evidence that more than pro-life legislation is behind the trend.

Though many factors contribute to the closures, substantially reduced demand for abortion is the primary driver, said Randall K. O’Bannon, director of education and research for National Right to Life.

“Abortion just isn’t selling the way it used to,” he said. “[Women are] choosing to give birth to their babies.”

About 705 abortion facilities operated at the industry’s peak in the late 1980s. By 2011, that number dropped to 553, according to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute. Since 2011, about 162 facilities have closed, and only 21 new ones opened. In at least five states, only one abortion center remains in operation.

The Abortion Care Network, a group representing independent abortion facilities, estimates that for every three independent abortion facility closures in conservative states, two have closed in more liberal states in recent years, The Guardian reported. Twelve have closed in California, as well as several in Washington, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, Bloomberg reported.

The rapid closures coincide with a record low abortion rate. In 2011, the number of abortions in the United States reached the lowest level since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973, according to Guttmacher. Between 2008 and 2011, the abortion rate and number both fell by 13 percent.

Access for Women, an abortion facility in abortion-friendly New York, has struggled to make a profit, office manager Peg Johnston told news site Fivethirtyeight.com.

“We’ve cut every cost we could think of. We have cut salaries. We haven’t given raises. We’re still hanging on by our fingernails,” she said.

And as abortion facilities close, fewer physicians choose to enter the abortion industry. The Bixby Center for Population, Health & Sustainability has recruited abortionists with fellowships, O’Bannon said. But if there’s not enough business, “where are these doctors going to go to set up shop?” he asked.

Abortionists lament their thinning ranks.

“We are a dying breed,” Shauna Heckert, executive director of Women’s Health Specialists of California, told Fivethirtyeight.com.

In a spiral of attrition, fewer abortionists also lead to fewer abortion facilities. Many centers have closed to consolidate into “mega-clinics” designed to handle high volume with fewer abortionists, O’Bannon said. They’re also becoming hubs for chemical abortions, including webcam abortions.

“They’re trying to work it out so … doctors can handle more,” O’Bannon said. “They’re really going to have a heavy emphasis on chemical abortion.”

When Summit Women’s Center in Bridgeport, Conn., closed last fall, the director cited the state’s declining need for abortion due to “education, access, and insurance coverage related to sexuality, contraception, pregnancy prevention, and reproductive healthcare,” she told the Connecticut Post.

Some credit greater access to contraceptives for the declining demand. But O’Bannon said it’s also due to educating women about abortion alternatives and exposing safety problems at facilities.

“We believe, and the numbers seem to back us up, that when these things occur, that more and more women will choose life for their babies and a better life for themselves,” O’Bannon said.

Courtney Crandell Courtney is a former WORLD correspondent.

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