WEDNESDAY, Aug. 24 (HealthDay News) -- The percentage of obstetrician-gynecologists performing abortions in the United States dropped to 14 percent from 22 percent in 2008, a new survey shows.
But the latest numbers, to be published in the September issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology, don't necessarily paint an accurate picture of abortion in contemporary America, according to those on both sides of the abortion debate.
Researchers asked 1,800 ob/gyns aged 65 or younger whether or not they provided abortion services and/or had patients requesting such services. Of the 1,031 responses tallied, 97 percent of physicians said patients had come to them seeking abortions, and just 14 percent -- about one in seven -- said they offered such services.
Female ob/gyns were more likely than males to provide abortions, the survey showed. Younger ob/gyns, those from the Northeast, West and other densely populated urban areas, along with Jewish physicians, were also more likely to provide abortion services.
Ob/gyns who were among the least likely to provide abortion services included doctors located in rural communities in the South and Southwest, as well as Catholics, evangelical Protestants and other highly religious physicians, the survey showed.
Access to abortion remains limited by the willingness of physicians to provide abortion services, particularly in rural communities in the South and Midwest, concluded the study authors, led by Dr. Debra B. Stulberg, an assistant professor in the department of family medicine at the University of Chicago.
Southern doctors accounted for more than one-third of the respondents; just 8 percent reported providing abortions.
But there were limitations to the survey, said Rachel Jones, a senior research associate at the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute, which focuses on sexual and reproductive health issues. For example, the current survey included older doctors than those polled in the earlier survey.
Also, roughly one-third of the ob/gyns polled did not respond, and there was no information given on nonrespondents, she said.
"Given that we don't know who didn't answer the survey, we can't accept this as hard fact," she said. Some doctors may not provide abortion services, but may give referrals, and this was not asked in the survey, she said. Still, there is room for improvement in access to abortion services.
Meanwhile, other research cited in the study found that the number of U.S. women terminating their pregnancies increased slightly between 2005 and 2008.
Jeanne Monahan, director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council, a pro-life group based in Washington, D.C., said it is impossible to get an accurate handle on how many doctors provide abortion services because there are no abortion reporting requirements.
"We don't think abortion is ever good, so we are happy that the amount of abortion providers is on the decrease," she said. "We do believe this is due to advances in ultrasound and knowledge about fetal pain."
Dr. Douglas Laube, board chair for the Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, said the new survey offers some glimmers of hope that access to abortion may be improving, despite the drop in the percentage of ob/gyns who provide these services.
"It is encouraging that the percentage of abortion services providers are in the younger age group and of the female gender, so the assumption is that number will at least stay stable or perhaps increase," he said. A majority of medical residents today are females.
The survey only polled ob/gyns, but other doctors, such as family practitioners, may also provide abortion services. For this reason, access to abortion may be a little higher than stated here, he noted.
There's more on preventing unplanned pregnancies at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
SOURCES: Douglas Laube, M.D., board chair, Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, and ob/gyn, Madison, Wisc.; Jeanne Monahan, director, Center for Human Dignity, Family Research Council, Washington, D.C.; Rachel Jones, senior research associate, Guttmacher Institute, New York City; September 2011 Obstetrics & Gynecology
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