ABORTIONS: Number Slides to 20-Year Low
The number of abortions performed in the U.S. dropped from 1,221,585 in 1996 to 1,184,758 in 1997 -- the lowest level in two decades, according to a preliminary analysis in today's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The CDC announced a second low, noting that the number of abortions for every 1,000 live births dropped from 314 in 1996 to 305 in 1997, the lowest national abortion ratio since 1975. However, 20 of every 1,000 females ages 15-44 had abortions in 1997, a rate that has held steady since 1996 ( AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/7). Of those women who had abortions in 1997, 20% were under age 19, 32% were ages 20-24, and most were white and unmarried. Additionally, 55% of abortions took place during the first eight weeks of gestation, while 88% were performed during the first 12 weeks. Consistent with previous years, 92% of women who obtained abortions were residents of the state where they underwent the procedure. The annual report for the first time includes information from some states about which procedures were used. Curettage remains the primary abortion procedure, as 98% of abortions in 1997 relied on that procedure (MMWR, 1/7 issue). The CDC reports that in 1997, 16 states reported 2,988 abortions that were induced by drugs such as methotrexate; however, the Alan Guttmacher Institute has estimated that there were 4,300 drug- induced abortions in the U.S. that year (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/7).
Why the Drop?
The reported number of abortions peaked in 1990 with 1,429,577 and has declined each year since by 2%-5%, with the exception of 1995-1996, when the number increased by 0.9%, according to the report. In 1997, the number of abortions decreased by 3%. MMWR offers several explanations for the slide, including a reduced number of unintended pregnancies, attitude changes and reduced access to abortion services. Another factor may be a "shift in the age distribution of reproductive-age women obtaining abortions." While the actual number of women of reproductive age (15-44) has increased since 1990, the percentage who are older also has increased, as evidenced by the drop from 49% to 46% in women in the highest fertility age group (under age 30). The CDC will release final 1997 abortion data this summer (MMWR, 1/7 issue). April Thompson of the National Right to Life Committee said that because more women have an "increasing awareness 'of the humanity' of the unborn child and 'the violence' of abortion," more women are rejecting abortion. Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, said declines could be related to "terrorism and harassment at clinics." She added that "abortion trends are positive if they reflect improved access to birth control" (Wetzstein, Washington Times, 1/7).