Although abortion rates in America are in a steady decline, they are up sharply among minority teen-agers and girls of all races under 15, a new study shows.
The findings were released yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control and the Alan Guttmacher Institute in New York, the nonprofit research organization regarded as the premier tracker of America's abortion trends.
In a joint study in the journal Family Planning Perspectives, the institute and CDC reported that:
* The overall abortion rate in the United States is down 6 percent between 1980 and 1987, the most recent year for trend data.
* At the same time, the abortion rate has risen 18 percent for teens under age 15, an increase that occurred mostly among whites.
* For minority teens between 15 and 19, the abortion rate jumped 11percent. It dropped slightly among white teens of the same age.
* The pregnancy rate among white teens dropped 6 percent, while pregnancy among minority, mostly black, teens was up 2 percent.
The study's researchers suggested that the overall fall in the abortion rate, which began in the early '80s, could be due either "to reduced access to abortion services or changed attitudes toward abortion as well as toward carrying unplanned pregnancies to term."
But they were at a loss to explain the abortion rises among adolescents, which seemed to contradict a major teen sexuality study released by Guttmacher just six months ago.
In that study, the institute reported that while more teens overall were sexually active, they were also using contraceptives more. Sexual activity was increasing mainly among white teens, that study said, while among minority youths it was leveling off.
"I frankly don't have a good explanation" for the 11 percent rise in abortion rates among minority teens, said institute researcher Stanley Henshaw.
"One possibility is that they have been affected by cutbacks in [federal] funding for family planning clinics. . . . Other than that, I don't really know what is happening in the nonwhite community," Henshaw said.
As for the even greater increase -- 18 percent -- in the abortion rate for all teen girls under 15, Henshaw said that increasing sexual activity among adolescents, including the youngest, may be to blame.
"It means we have work to do with sex education and trying to reach these younger teen-agers about responsible sexual behavior," the researcher said.
He noted, though, that the actual number of abortions in the under-15 age group -- 16,100 in 1987 -- was a small part of the total 1.56 million
abortions performed in 1987.
The new abortion trend study reported that there has been little overall change in abortion trends between 1980 and 1987. It is still the case that most women having abortions are white, unmarried, and between the ages of 20 and 29.
But the study also noted that there is a "widening gap" between the nation's white and minority teens in their ability to prevent pregnancy. That gap continues in older age groups as well: Though 65 percent of the women getting abortions are white, the study said, the abortion rate among white women is falling, and that accounts for nearly all of the 6 percent overall drop. For minority -- mostly black -- women, the abortion rate has remained the same.