Decline in abortions seems to be turning In some states, '96 figures rose for 1st time in decade


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

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, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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 a tally of abortions, based on state reports and reports of individual doctors and clinics.

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, 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, 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 abortions last year, many more -- including Missouri, Nebraska, Virginia and Wisconsin -- showed increases.

What caused the numbers to drop in the early 1990s, and then to rise 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.

Two possible reasons are 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 lost popularity after a burst of product-liability lawsuits.

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Pub Date: 12/05/97

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