Instead of the usual partisan rhetoric over abortion politics, candidates and policymakers should shift their focus to prevention.

Share story

LOWER abortion rates don’t tell a complete story. As election season looms, political candidates and operatives should be careful how they spin the results of a new survey by The Associated Press.

The wire service reports a reduction in abortion rates nationwide and here in Washington state — from 21,124 in 2010 to 17,592 in 2013. That decrease really doesn’t say much, though it does indicate that birth control works and fewer women and teens are getting pregnant.

Yet national anti-abortion advocates claim the AP survey is proof that hundreds of new restrictions passed by state legislatures since 2011 are working — from forced sonograms to longer waiting periods and unnecessarily high standards for abortion-clinic facilities. These intrusive government policies are based on ideology, not sound medical reasoning.

Washington already has some of the fewest restrictions in the nation when it comes to abortion access, and the numbers are still decreasing. Politicians should leave current laws alone and avoid using abortion as a wedge issue — instead, focus on prevention.

An immediate challenge is ensuring all who want birth control are able to get it, especially poor women and girls of color. Though average teen pregnancy rates have fallen in King County, disparities persist. Teens in South Seattle and South King County have birthrates up to three times higher than the county average. Washington’s laws — which allow comprehensive sex education — help, but access to reproductive health services is even more crucial.

Last year, a funding shortage led Public Health — Seattle & King County to close three family-planning clinics (Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest reopened a White Center clinic), and nearly shutter two more, until the private sector and local governments stepped up with financial support. Clinics in Federal Way and Auburn remain open — for now.

Even more disturbing, a recent survey by two abortion-rights groups revealed that providers on Washington’s health-insurance exchange often failed to tell undercover callers that they qualified for U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved birth-control methods with no copay.

Without better access and education on contraceptive use, unintended pregnancies happen more often; abortion becomes more prevalent.

That’s why legislators at the local, state and federal level should ensure that family-planning programs are protected and don’t get lost in the abortion fray.