Although the drop from the same time period a year earlier could be explained in part by a general decline in the number of abortions in the state and nationwide, interviews suggest that some Virginia teen-agers are now traveling to Washington, D.C., to have abortions rather than comply with the new law.
Tuesday, the state and Planned Parenthood will square off in a federal appeals court in Richmond as part of a challenge to the constitutionality of the law, which took effect July 1.
According to figures compiled by the health department and The Washington Post from abortion facilities, teen-agers 17 and younger got about 700 abortions in Virginia from July through November 1997. In the same months a year earlier, that group had 903 abortions.
Although those numbers are incomplete because some providers have not reported and the eventual decline may be somewhat smaller, people on both sides of the abortion debate agree that the apparent double-digit reduction in Virginia is remarkable.
"It's quite phenomenal," said Fiona Givens, a spokeswoman for Virginia Society for Human Life. "It's a win-win situation for the families, because the girls are not aborting their babies in secret..."
It is unclear whether the decline in abortions has led to a rise in births to teen-age mothers in Virginia. Statistics on teen births in 1997 are not yet available, although numbers through 1996 show a dip. In Virginia, preliminary figures show that births to women of all ages fell 9 percent from 1996 to 1997.
Teen-age abortions across the country have declined 32 percent, from 31 per 1,000 girls in 1983 to 21 per 1,000 in 1994, the latest year for which statistics are available, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood.
Twenty-nine states enforce laws that require a parent be notified or give consent. In Virginia, a teen-ager also can seek permission from a judge. Relatively few teen-agers have used that option. Final figures won't be released until late summer, state health officials said.
It's not just Virginia girls who are affected by the law. In 1996, 30 of the 44 teen-agers seeking abortions from Planned Parenthood of the Blue Ridge in Roanoke came from other states, mostly North Carolina and West Virginia, both of which have parental involvement laws, Blue Ridge President David Nova said. Since July, he said, not a single out-of-state teenager has come in.
Anne Kincaid, a lobbyist for former governor George Allen, who championed the parental notice law, said that once teen-agers can no longer hide pregnancies through abortions, their attitudes about sex change.
"One of the laudable consequences we've seen in other states is when the quick fix is no longer secret, then behavior changes," she said. "Then we see a reduction in pregnancy, perhaps by more responsible use of birth control or by actual abstinence."
Judy Koehler, a spokeswoman for Americans United for Life in Chicago, said notification laws create stronger families. "They are very effective public policy," she said.
Koehler said that in the first five years of Minnesota's parental notification law, the pregnancy rate for teen-agers fell 21 percent, the abortion rate went down 27 percent, and the birth rate fell 12.5 percent.
"Governments have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to reduce the teen pregnancy rates," she said. "Parental involvement laws act to change teen-age sexual habits."