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ABORTION RATE'S DROP MAY END; EXPERTS SAY TRENDS SHOW RISE.

Byline: Tamar Levin The New York Times

The number of women having abortions has declined steadily since 1990, a federal agency said Thursday, but some state figures show that, for reasons as yet unknown, the numbers began rising last year in many parts of the country.

According to figures made public by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 1,210,883 abortions reported in the United States in 1995, down 4.5 percent from the previous year and a 15 percent drop from the peak of 1,429,577 in 1990. The ratio of abortions to live births and the rate of abortions per 1,000 women also dropped, to their lowest levels since 1975. But the 1995 numbers may be the last to show such a sharp drop.

``From what I'm seeing on the state reports, there won't be these continued decreases, and the 1996 numbers may even be up a little,'' said Stanley K. Henshaw, deputy director of research at the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which tracks the CDC numbers and conducts its own tally of abortions, based on state reports and reports of individual doctors and clinics. ``We've made progress in reducing abortion, but we can't count on that continuing indefinitely.''

There are as yet no national statistics for 1996, but a sampling of state and local health departments bears out Henshaw's sense that the trend has turned.

In New York City, for example, the number of abortions increased to 97,800 last year, from 95,205 in 1995. In Florida there was a sharp rise, to 80,040 last year, from 74,749 in 1995. In Illinois the numbers grew to 53,613 last year, from 52,300 in 1995. In Texas, the numbers also rose: there were 91,619 abortions in 1996, compared with 87,501 the previous year.

While a few states - among them Arizona, Kansas, Maryland and Michigan - continued to report a decline in the number of abortions last year, many more - including Missouri, Nebraska, Virginia and Wisconsin - showed increases.

The California Department of Health Services, which would ordinarily report to the CDC, has not compiled the state's total abortion figures since the early 1980s because the information was so underreported, said Ken August, a spokesman for the state Department of Health Services.

``Some providers may not wish to disclose whether they perform abortions,'' August said Thursday. ``The information was so underreported that it was frankly inaccurate. We decided that we couldn't put our seal of approval on this because it was so underreported.''

Just what caused the numbers to drop in the early 1990s, and then to rise again more recently, is unclear.

Most experts attribute the declines to a combination of factors, including increased - and more effective - use of contraception and the aging of the baby boomers, which has pushed a larger portion of women 15 to 44 years of age into the older, less fertile end of their childbearing years. Some also cite changing attitudes to abortion and, because of anti-abortion violence and legal challenges imposing new procedural barriers, reduced access to abortion.

``It's impossible to say exactly how much of the change is due to which factors, but we do know that condom use has been increasing, because of concern about AIDS, and we do have data showing that there were fewer unintended pregnancies in the early- to mid-1990s than in the mid-1980s,'' Henshaw said.

What might have made the numbers rise last year is even more speculative. But two possible reasons include the advent of changes in the welfare system in many states, pushing low-income women into the work force, and the precipitous drop in the use of Norplant, a contraceptive implant paid for by welfare, which suddenly lost popularity after a burst of product-liability lawsuits.

The Supreme Court made abortion a constitutional right throughout the nation in 1973, and the number of legal abortions more than doubled from 1972 to 1979 as access to abortion became far simpler.

According to the figures made public by the disease-control centers, a federal agency in Atlanta, teen-agers account for one-fifth of those having abortions, while women 20 to 24 years of age account for 33 percent and those 25 or older make up 47 percent.

As in past years, 92 percent of the women had their abortion performed in the state where they lived. Four out of five women having abortions were single. Sixty percent are white; 35 percent are African-American.

In 1995 there were 20 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44, down from a high of 25 in 1980; there were 311 abortions for every 1,000 live births, down from 359 in 1980.

More than half the nation's abortions were performed before eight weeks of gestation, and 88 percent took place in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Only 1.4 percent were performed after 21 weeks of gestation.

In Congress, much of the debate about abortion over the last year has focused on a late-term method that anti-abortion groups call ``partial-birth'' abortion, in which the fetus is partly delivered, feet first, before a doctor makes a hole in the skull, suctions out the contents, and collapses the skull so that the head can pass through the cervix.

The centers' statistics do not have a separate category for such abortions. Lisa Koonin, chief of surveillance of the division of reproductive health at the centers, said such abortions would be reflected among the 98.9 percent of all abortions performed by curettage.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Dec 5, 1997
Words:916
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