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Abortion figures, facilities decline in ’90s, study shows

WASHINGTON (BP)–The number of abortions and abortion-providing facilities in the United States has decreased markedly in the 1990s, according to a survey by a research organization identified with the abortion industry.
Not only has a decline in both categories been recorded in recent years, but the number of abortions is at its lowest in 20 years and the number of abortion facilities has decreased by nearly one-third from its highest point in the early 1980s, The Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI) announced Dec. 11.
The number of abortions in the country fell 11 percent from 1992, the last year for which AGI had performed research on abortion providers, to 1996. The 1.37 million abortions for 1996 were a slight increase from the 1.36 million of 1995 but a large decline from the 1.61 million reported in 1990, according to AGI. The 1990 total was the highest since abortion was legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973, according to AGI.
The 1995-96 figures were the lowest since 1977, when there were about 1.32 million abortions, AGI reported. The abortion rate, which is the number of abortions per 1,000 women age 15 to 44, and the abortion ratio, which is the percentage of pregnancies that end in abortion, also were lower than they have been in two decades, according to AGI. The abortion rate in 1996 was 22.9 and the ratio 26.1 percent. The highest annual figures, according to AGI, were a rate of 29.3 in both 1980 and ’81 and a ratio of 30.4 in 1983.
The survey also showed a 14 percent decrease since 1992 in the number of facilities performing abortions. From 1988 to ’92 there was only an 8 percent decline in such facilities. The peak year for abortion-providing facilities was 1982, when there were 2,908. In 1996, that total had fallen to 2,042.
The decline in facilities providing abortions has impacted some states more than others. Among states that showed at least a 50 percent decline from 1982 to 1996 in the number of abortion providers were: Alabama, from 45 to 14; Arkansas, 13 to 6; Georgia, 82 to 41; Iowa, 25 to 8; Kansas, 23 to 10; Maine, 39 to 16; Mississippi, 13 to 6; Missouri, 29 to 10; New Mexico, 26 to 13; Tennessee, 47 to 20; Texas, 128 to 64; West Virginia, 10 to 4, and Wisconsin, 29 to 11.
The study showed California had the largest number of abortion providers in 1996 with 492. North Dakota and South Dakota had the fewest providers, with one each.
The largest decline in providers has been among hospitals and physicians’ offices rather than abortion clinics, AGI reported. Such clinics perform 91 percent of abortions, however, according to AGI.
Pro-life advocates welcomed the results.
The study is “more good news about Americans’ increasing disaffection with abortion,” said Helen Alvare, spokesperson for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“Other studies show that rates of teenage sexual involvement are also dropping, and fewer young people are adopting pro-abortion positions,” Alvare said in a written statement.
The American public’s level “of distress is growing not only with abortion itself but with the non-marital, sexual relationships that lead to most abortions,” she said. “Now more than ever, those who offer alternatives to abortion and alternatives to the idea of casual sex should step forward with new confidence. People are ready to listen.”
Laura Echevarria, spokesperson for the National Right to Life Committee, said in a written release, “While we are pleased to see a drop in the number of abortions, it remains a tragedy that 1.37 million unborn children died in 1996 and many more have died since then. The pro-life movement will continue its educational and legislative efforts to protect women and their unborn children from abortion.”
While Alvare and Echevarria attributed the declining abortion figures to the work of pro-life and pro-abstinence advocates, as well as changes in attitudes among young people about sex and abortion, AGI pointed to other factors. Increasing numbers of women are in older age groups and teenagers are having fewer unintended pregnancies, some because of improved use of contraceptives, said Stanley Henshaw, AGI’s deputy director of research, in a written statement.
“Other factors, such as attitudes toward abortion, decreasing access to abortion services and anti-abortion violence — and the degree to which these factors have had an impact — are more difficult, if not impossible, to determine,” Henshaw said.
Polls earlier this year showed a decline in the public’s support for abortion rights. In January, a Gallup poll showed 23 percent of Americans support legal abortion in all circumstances, an 8 percent drop from September 1995. From 1975 to 1995, Gallup surveys showed an increase in support for abortion in all circumstances. A New York Times/CBS News poll also conducted in January revealed a decline in support for abortion under certain circumstances. The survey showed only 25 percent of respondents said a woman should be able to have an abortion if her pregnancy would interrupt her career. In a Times/CBS poll in 1989, 37 percent said yes to such a scenario.
AGI estimated 4,200 abortions were performed in 1996 using a combination of drugs. It estimated 4,300 such abortions were done in the first half of 1997. It was the first time AGI had asked non-hospital facilities about abortion drugs in a survey. The abortion drug RU 486, also known as the French abortion pill, is pending approval by the Food and Drug Administration. It was used experimentally in some of the abortions reported to AGI.
The AGI study was published in the November/December issue of the institute’s journal, Family Planning Perspectives.