- Associated Press - Sunday, June 7, 2015

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The number of abortions in Nebraska has declined by nearly 8 percent over a four-year span, but two groups on opposite sides of the abortion debate attribute the drop to different reasons.

An annual report released in May on abortions by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services shows there were 2,270 abortions reported in the state in 2014, compared with 2,464 in 2010 - a drop of 7.9 percent.

The drop comes in the five years since Nebraska became the first state to enact a law banning abortion after 20 weeks of gestation - based on the premise that fetuses at that stage can feel pain. Other conservative states soon followed with similar laws.

An Associated Press survey shows a decrease in abortions nationwide of about 12 percent since 2010.

The AP compiled data on abortion rates from health departments in 45 U.S. states that keep such information on a comprehensive basis. It shows the annual number of abortions has declined substantially since 2010 in most states. The biggest decreases are almost equal between states that have enacted anti-abortion laws during that span and other states that have shunned such measures while protecting abortion rights.

Julie Schmit-Albin, director of Nebraska Right to Life, credits the so-called fetal pain law and others - such as a 2011 ban on remote distribution of abortion-inducing drugs - for the decrease.

“Our job as a state affiliate of National Right to Life is to continue to buck up against Roe,” Schmit-Albin said, referring to the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. “We have done that successfully in Nebraska.”

But Angie Remington, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said the decline correlates to a drop nationwide in the birth rate and better access to different types of birth control, such as IUDs and hormonal injections and implants.

“I think better education about the different birth control methods that are out there for women increased access,” Remington said. “Sometimes through family planning programs, Title X program and, in some states, Medicaid expansion that expanded family planning services to women of lower incomes - all of that made (birth control) more accessible and more affordable for women.”

Schmit-Albin said her group intends to keep pressure on the Nebraska Legislature to pass more measures, including bills that failed to move out of committee this session. One would require abortion clinics to post signs reiterating the importance of informed consent. Another would reclassify facilities that perform five or more abortions a month as ambulatory surgical centers, requiring them to meet more stringent state and federal standards and have a written agreement with a hospital in which patients could be transferred in case of an emergency beyond the capabilities of clinic staff.

There are three abortion centers in the state that perform five or more procedures a month: Planned Parenthood clinics in Omaha and Lincoln and the Bellevue Health Center.

Schmit-Albin believes the retirement this year of a doctor who had performed abortions at the Lincoln clinic will precipitate a further decline in abortions in Nebraska. But Remington said Planned Parenthood has a doctor filling in on a temporary basis, and hopes to have a permanent replacement in the near future.

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