Abortion rate reaches lowest level since 1976

ATLANTA (AP) — The nation’s abortion rate has dropped to its lowest level in nearly two decades, but the reason for the decline is subject to debate.
Anti-abortion groups say more women are learning that there are alternatives to the procedure. Abortion-rights organizations said the decline is because of harassment by anti-abortion activists and a lack of abortion services, particularly in rural areas.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that 21 out of every 1,000 women between ages 15 and 44 had an abortion in 1994 — the smallest number since 1976.
In 1994, the latest year for which figures were available, about 1.2 million abortions were performed, down from 1.3 million the year before, the CDC said. It was the fourth year in a row that the number of abortions has fallen. In 1976, 988,267 abortions were performed.
The CDC began tracking abortions in 1972. Abortion was legalized nationwide in 1973.
The peak year for abortion was 1990, when there were 1.4 million. The profile of women who had an abortion in 1994 hasn’t differed from previous years: most were white, single and under 25.
There were 321 abortions for every 1,000 live births in 1994, the lowest level since 1976, when there were 312 abortions per 1,000 live births, the CDC said.
The CDC did not offer a detailed analysis about why the abortion rate dropped, but organizations on both sides of the issue suggested several reasons.
Planned Parenthood and The Alan Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health organization, said part of the reason may be that it’s more difficult to get abortions.
“We know that abortion services have become less available,” said Susan Tew, a Guttmacher spokeswoman in New York. “Abortion services are more concentrated in urban areas, for instance, and services are more problematic for women because of harassment.”
Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said 84 percent of counties in the United States lack a doctor who performs abortions.
“Hate and harassment clearly inhibit women from access to abortion. It is more difficult to get an abortion now than it was five years ago,” Feldt said.
Better access to birth control also may be a factor, she said.
Laura Echevarria, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based National Right to Life Committee, said education efforts by her group and others have likely had an impact.
“We point them in the direction of a church or a pregnancy crisis center, and tell them that there are other alternatives besides abortion,” she said.