"We've noticed in some areas where teenage pregnancy is high, there is very little for kids to do," she said. "High poverty rates, few jobs. We really need to just -- on a basic level, make more available to youth."
Young people should be given a broad view of their lives so they know they have choices and they can put their reproductive lives in perspective, she said.
"Let's face it, your reproductive life is your life," Pomponio said. "It's intrinsically tied to what you're able to achieve."
More could be done in the way of planned parenting and sex education, though, Vernon said.
"Every year there are approximately 6 million pregnancies in the United States and unfortunately 3 million of these pregnancies are unwanted pregnancies and of these unwanted pregnancies, one million are aborted every year," he said. "We need to expend more energy on decreasing the number of unwanted pregnancies through sex education and planned parenting."
Although abortion remains legal, increasing restrictions have played a role in decreasing the rate for the procedure, advocates say.
In 2011, states enacted a record-breaking 92 restrictions on abortion. Another 43 were enacted in 19 states last year, according to Guttmacher.
In West Virginia, women must undergo mandated counseling and wait 24 hours before having an abortion. Additionally, one parent must be notified in the case of a minor getting an abortion.
These and other restrictions are cause for concern, Barbara Ferarro, a former nun who, along with Pat Hussey, founded Charleston's social services hub Covenant House.
Ferraro and Hussey will speak at WV Free's annual gala Tuesday from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Culture Center. (A limited number of tickets will be available at the door for $50. Those interested in attended are encouraged to call ahead to 304-342-9188.)
The two have been outspoken supporters of the pro-choice movement and critics of the Catholic Church's opposition of abortion, and Ferraro points to the church's influence as another factor for the decline of abortions.
In the United States, there are more than 600 Catholic hospitals, she said, with one in every six hospital beds in a Catholic hospital. Such hospitals enforce ethical and religious directives that basically ban abortion, as well as sterilization, fertility services and providing contraceptives, she said.
Ferraro said she's concerned that if restrictions continue, more women will die from unsafe abortions, just as they did before they were legal.
According to Planned Parenthood, in 1965, illegal and unsafe abortions accounted for 17 percent of maternal deaths. Today, the group said, less than 0.3 percent of women who undergo a legal abortion have a serious complication, though the chance of death increases with the length of pregnancy.
Vernon said the decline in maternal deaths because of abortion is Roe v. Wade's effect on women's health.
"The passage of Roe v. Wade has led to an increase in the total number of professional, medical abortions in the United States and it has led to a precipitous reduction in the number of maternal deaths from non-professional, non-medical abortions," Vernon said.
Pomponio recognizes that people have strong feelings about pregnancy and childbirth, and the Roe decision said that women get to make that decision for themselves.
As the era before the decision recedes, it may be difficult for people to remember that before legalized abortion, women were dying from illegal procedures, she said.
"We must preserve Roe and prevent efforts to chip away at it," Pomponio said. "The more restrictions there are the less access [there is]. I think we need to respect individual beliefs and decision making."
When it comes to abortion and its restrictions, the question comes down to trust of women, Pomponio said.
"The underlined value in these decisions when we talk about reproductive health is 'Do we trust women and health-care providers?'" she said. "Forty years after Roe, the answer must be yes."
As far as the public's perception on abortion, Vernon said the issue is still very much a divisive one.
"In the past 10 years I have noticed an increase in the number of people that are either strongly opposed to abortion or are strongly supportive of being pro-choice," he said "Very few people are indifferent about this issue."
Reach Lori Kersey at lori.ker...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.