- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 14, 2003

The number of "partial-birth" abortions has tripled in the past four years, according to a report on abortion trends released this week.

An estimated 2,200 dilation and extraction, or D&X, abortions were conducted in 2000, said researchers with the Alan Guttmacher Institute, who surveyed all known U.S. abortion providers during the past two years.

In 1996, institute researchers estimated that there had been 650 D&X abortions, which are performed on fetuses older than 20 weeks. Opponents of the procedure call it partial-birth abortion because in some cases the fetus is old enough to survive outside the womb.

The 2,200 D&X abortions account for 0.17 percent of abortions, said institute researchers Lawrence B. Finer and Stanley K. Henshaw. Moreover, the 2,200 figure "should be interpreted cautiously because projections based on such small numbers are subject to error," they wrote.

Douglas Johnson and Randall O'Bannon of the National Right to Life Committee, a national pro-life group, said the new number shows one of two things: "Either they vastly underreported the number in 1996 or there's been a huge increase, more than tripling partial-birth abortions in four years."

"We think even the new number only represents a fraction of the true number," Mr. Johnson added.

Late-term abortion is expected to be a political issue again this year, despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2000 that struck down a Nebraska ban on partial-birth abortion and chilled enforcement of dozens of similar laws in other states.

"Congress is moving to address the issue on a national basis," Mr. Johnson said.

A federal ban should pass the House, "and we hope it will pass the Senate this year," he said.

Pro-choice advocates are expecting the "same-old, same-old" from the new Congress, said Elizabeth Cavendish, legal director of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League's Pro-Choice America. Whatever Congress produces is likely to be "extreme and unconstitutional" and, like the Nebraska law, restrictive of too many abortion procedures, she said.

The new report offers comprehensive data from 1996 to 2000 from all 50 states and the District.

It found that:

•The number of abortions fell from 1.36 million in 1996 to 1.31 million in 2000, a 4 percent decline.

•The abortion rate declined 5 percent, to 21.3 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44.

•In 35 states, including Virginia, and in the District, abortion rates fell. In Virginia in 2000, the rate dropped 5 percent, to 18.1 abortions per 1,000 fertile women. In the District, the rate fell 39 percent, to 68.1 abortions per 1,000 fertile women.

•Maryland and West Virginia were among the 15 states with increased abortion rates. In Maryland the rate rose 11 percent, to 29 abortions per 1,000 fertile women. In West Virginia the rate rose 3 percent, to 6.8 abortions per 1,000 women.

•There were an estimated 37,000 early medical abortions done in the first six months of 2001. This shows a small but significant use of the newly legal chemical process called mifepristone, formerly known as RU-486.

Abortions are declining, institute researchers said, because of lower teen pregnancy rates, more contraceptive choices, an aging female baby boomer population and a shrinking pool of abortion providers (down to 1,819 providers in 2000).

Use of emergency contraception, in which women take extra doses of birth-control pills after unprotected sex, is also growing, said Mr. Finer, noting that the practice may have averted 51,000 pregnancies in 2000.

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