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U.S. Abortion Rate Falls to Lowest Level in Decades

New report does find medical abortions on the increase

THURSDAY, Jan. 17 (HealthDay News) -- The U.S. abortion rate has reached its lowest level in three decades, according to a new report released Thursday.

"We don't know why," said study author Rachel Jones, senior research associate at the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit group that focuses on reproductive issues. The findings will be published in the March issue of the institute's journal, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.

The actual number of abortions dropped to a new low, with 1.2 million abortions in 2005, compared to a high of 1.6 million abortions in 1990.

The report does not include an analysis of why the levels have continued to decline. "We don't regard [the findings] as good or bad," Jones said. "It's a descriptive study."

The abortion rate for 2005 was 19.4 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44. In comparison, the rate was 29.3 abortions per 1,000 women in 1981, 21.3 abortions per 1,000 women in 2000, and 19.7 abortions per 1,000 women in 2004.

To arrive at their findings, Jones and her team contacted all known abortion providers in the United States and also used U.S. Census Bureau data to look at national and state trends.

Among the trends they uncovered was an increase in medical abortions between 2000 and 2005. "A majority of providers offer both RU-486 [medical abortion] as well as surgical," Jones said. "The number offering just RU-486 went up."

Jones and her team found that 57 percent of all known abortion providers now offer such abortion services, compared with 33 percent in early 2001. Medical abortions accounted for 13 percent, or 161,000, of all abortions done in 2005, she reported.

More than six of 10 abortions were performed within the first eight weeks, the researchers reported. And almost three of 10 were done at six weeks or before.

Jones' team also found that the average cost of an abortion at 10 weeks was $413, about $11 less than in 2001 when inflation is taken into account.

The number of providers in 2005 was 1,787, 2 percent fewer than in 2000.

The findings triggered mixed reactions.

"This study shows that prevention works, and that's what we provide in our health centers every day," Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, said in a statement. "Planned Parenthood knows from daily experience that the best way to continue the downward trend is with policies that expand access to health care and real information. At the end of the day, Americans of all stripes believe that we need to do more to prevent unintended pregnancy and make health care affordable and accessible."

While the study didn't include an analysis of why the rate is declining, Janice Crouse, director of The Beverly LaHaye Institute at Concerned Women for America, a conservative public policy organization, said one reason could be a decline in abortions among teen girls.

That drop, she added, is partially explained by the success of abstinence programs. "Abortion definitely has gone down, particularly among young people," Crouse said.

"We'd like to take a look at the dynamics [behind the statistics]," said Jones, adding that Guttmacher plans to look more closely at the use of RU-486 in future research.

More information

For more information on abortion in the United States., visit Guttmacher Institute.

SOURCES: Rachel Jones, Ph.D., senior research associate, Guttmacher Institute, New York City; Janice Crouse, Ph.D., director and senior fellow, The Beverly LaHaye Institute, Concerned Women for America, Washington, D.C.; Jan. 16, 2008, statement, Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, New York City; March 2008 Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health

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