- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 9, 2002

The U.S. abortion rate fell steadily during the latter half of the 1990s, with the steepest decline occurring among high-school-age girls, says a report released yesterday by a leading research group on abortion statistics.
Declines in abortions were also seen among women with high incomes, women with college degrees and nonreligious women, said the study by Rachel K. Jones, Jacqueline E. Darroch and Stanley K. Henshaw of the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which based its report on data from 10,000 women who sought abortions.
However, poor women especially those on Medicaid saw abortion rates rise.
Other groups of women cited in the study who were likely to get abortions are those ages 20 to 30, as well as those who are unmarried, black or Hispanic, already mothers, or Protestant.
Abortion remains a common experience among U.S. women, AGI researchers said, noting that there were 1.31 million abortions in 2000, 1.42 million in 1994 and 1.56 million in 1987.
Still, overall abortion rates have dipped since the 1980s and have steadily declined since the early 1990s, Ms. Jones said.
From 1994 to 2000, the abortion rate dropped 11 percent, from 24 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age in 1994 to 21 abortions per 1,000 women.
Abortion rates for teenagers from 15 to 17 saw the biggest decline, falling 39 percent from 1994 to 2000. The rate dropped to 15 abortions per 1,000 teens in 2000 from 24 abortions per 1,000 teens in 1994.
Ms. Jones said the survey didn't capture explanations for these and other trends, although some answers should be forthcoming next year in the federal government's National Survey of Family Growth.
Laura Echevarria, spokeswoman for the National Right to Life Committee, said laws requiring parental consent or notification before teens can have abortions played a role in lowering both teen pregnancy rates and abortion rates.
"There's also been a concerted effort over the last few years by pro-life groups, health departments and others to encourage teens to really think about the consequences of engaging in early sexual activity, and I think it has helped teens pay attention" to these situations, she said.
In addition, advances in ultrasound and imaging technology are allowing teens to see the development of the unborn child, Mrs. Echevarria said, which persuades some against abortion. In 1994 it wasn't common for teens to know about sonograms, she said. "Now I wonder what impact the [General Electric] commercials about the [four-dimensional] sonogram are going to have" on abortion numbers in upcoming years.
Other researchers, including those with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which funds AGI, have linked the reductions in abortions to cuts in abortion funding, restricted access to clinics and a lack of trained doctors.
The AGI study found that abortion rates declined among many groups of women, including significant drops for women with middle-class or higher incomes, women who graduated from college and women who are not affiliated with any particular religion.
But the researchers found that abortion rates rose among the poorest women 25 percent for those with the lowest incomes and 23 percent for those whose income is slightly above the federal poverty line.
"This wasn't a finding we expected to see and certainly not on this scale," Ms. Jones said, suggesting that poor women have less access to contraception.
It's a "tale of two nations," said Elizabeth Cavendish, legal director of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. "We're seeing the results of policies that don't afford equal access to contraception."
"I think we are seeing the effects of the coercive welfare legislation passed in 1996 that allowed states to deny benefits to children born to women receiving welfare," said the Rev. Carlton W. Veazey, president and chief executive of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
"As we said in 1996, when women face the prospect of literally having to take food out of another child's mouth in order to continue with a pregnancy, some will feel forced to choose abortion over deepened poverty," he said. "Let this be a lesson that punishing women and families is bad public policy."
Roughly half the states have this kind of "family cap" welfare policy, which is optional under the law.
Among the study's other findings for 2000:
Women who identified themselves as Protestant had the highest proportion of abortions (43 percent), followed by Catholic women (27 percent), women of no affiliation (22 percent) and women of another religion (8 percent).
Never-married women were far more likely to get abortions, accounting for 67 percent of abortions.
Nearly 90 percent of abortions were performed on women who live in metropolitan areas, where abortion clinics are much more common than in rural areas.


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