Abortions increase slightly in U.S. after years of decline CDC says half the states, including Maryland, reported fewer procedures

December 04, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE Sun staff writer Jonathan Bor contributed to this article.

After years of substantial declines, the number of abortions performed in the United States increased very slightly in 1996, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There were 1,221,585 abortions reported to the CDC in 1996, a 0.9 percent increase from the 1,210,883 reported in 1995 -- but still 15 percent below the 1,429,577 peak reported in 1990.

The abortion ratio also rose slightly, to 314 from 311 for every 1,000 live births, in part because the number of live births was a little lower. The rate of abortions per 1,000 females ages 15 to 44 remained at 20, the lowest rate since 1975.

According to the CDC, half the states reported fewer abortions in 1996 than in 1995, and half reported the same or more.

In Maryland, the number of reported abortions fell from 16,204 in 1995 to 11,671 in 1996, according to the state health department. The number continued to fall -- to 9,867 -- in 1997. But the decline might be deceptive. Under state law, clinics are not required to disclose the number of abortions they perform -- and reporting has dropped in recent years.

"It's too early to predict the pattern of abortions in the future," said Lisa Koonin, the CDC's chief of surveillance for reproductive health. "The movement was less than 1 percent, and that kind of variation in health statistics can be differences in reporting, or a leveling off after years of declines. And it's important to put it in context by remembering that the rate of 20 abortions per 1,000 is unchanged and the lowest since 1975. But we still have a major public health problem of unintended pregnancies."

Population experts said it would be several years before it became clear whether the number of abortions would continue to decline, or whether that trend had ended.

But it is unlikely that the 1997 abortion data will show a significant rise, said Stanley Henshaw, deputy director of research at the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research group that collects parallel abortion statistics.

"I've looked at the preliminary 1997 data from 26 states and New York City, and what they show collectively is a leveling off, maybe a small decline from 1997, and that there's not going to be any big increase," Henshaw said.

The slight rise in abortions was particularly puzzling given that there has been a sharp decline in the number of abortion providers over the past decade.

The CDC and others have said that the factors contributing to the overall decline in abortions since 1990 may have included reduced access to abortion, changes in attitudes about abortion, a decrease in the number of unintended pregnancies, and changes in contraceptive practices, such as the increased use of condoms and the use of long-lasting methods such as Norplant and Depo-Provera.

As in previous years, 9 percent of women who had abortions were white, 80 percent were unmarried and 20 percent were under 20.

Pub Date: 12/04/98

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