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Abortion On Wane in U.S.

But not among low-income women, survey finds

TUESDAY, Oct. 8, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- The number of abortions performed in the United States fell 11 percent between 1994 and 2000, to about 1.3 million annually, new figures show.

But low-income women were more likely to seek the procedure than in the past.

The abortion rate dropped from 24 per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 in 1994 to 21 per 1,000 women in 2000, according to the study by researchers at the Alan Guttmacher Institute in New York City.

The rate among adolescents has been falling since 1987. That trend accelerated through the late 1990s, dropping another 27 percent, the study found.

The drop was even sharper -- 39 percent -- for girls ages 15 to 17. An earlier study by the women's health group showed that increased use of contraception accounted for three-quarters of the falloff in abortions among teens. The rest was the result of decreased sexual activity.

Experts said another factor for the overall decline in abortions in the United States was the growing appeal of the so-called "morning after pill," which women can take to prevent pregnancy.

More than half of all women who underwent an abortion in 2000 were in their 20s, two-thirds were never married, and nearly 90 percent lived in cities, the new study found. Blacks, Hispanics, and women between the ages of 18 and 29 had higher rates of abortion.

The findings will appear in the November-December issue of Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.

While the overall abortion rate fell in 2000, it rose 25 percent for low-income women.

Nearly 60 percent of women who had abortions in 2000 had incomes less than twice the poverty level. That was up from 50 percent in 1994. The poverty line in 2000 was $8,350 for a single person, $11,250 for a family of two, and $14,150 for a family of three.

Six in 10 women who underwent an abortion in 2000 had at least one child already and 73 percent had been pregnant before, the study found.

Rachel Jones, a sociologist who led the study, said earlier research showed that poor women were more likely than wealthy women to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. She and her colleagues are now analyzing rates of contraceptive use among women in the study, which was based on a survey of more than 10,000 women who'd had abortions.

Dr. Paul Blumenthal, a gynecologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said the fact that more poor women are seeking abortions isn't surprising, given what he called the government's failure to adequately fund family planning.

"If poor women don't have access to family planning services, they won't have access to prevention of unintended pregnancy," said Blumenthal, an advisor to Planned Parenthood.

Blumenthal said the U.S. abortion rate remains higher than that of many European countries that devote more resources to family planning and contraceptive use.

The 2000 figures probably include only surgical abortions, because the abortion pill Mifeprex wasn't available in the United States until November of that year. Since then, more than 100,000 women have taken the drug, according to its distributor, Danco Laboratories. The company said sales of the pill are up 36 percent so far this year compared with 2001.

What To Do

For more on abortions and reproductive medicine, try the Population Council, Planned Parenthood, or the Alan Guttmacher Institute.

SOURCES: Rachel Jones, Ph.D., senior research associate, Alan Guttmacher Institute, New York; Paul Blumenthal, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, advisor, Planned Parenthood; Danco Laboratories, New York; November/December 2002 Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health
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