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Unwanted Pregnancies

Abortion rates are down. Why? Family planning may be the key.

Family Planning Up, Abortion Rates Down continued...

Family planning tools include abstinence, contraception, and other methods, such as natural birth control (also called the rhythm method), says Lisa Koonin, lead author of the CDC report and chief of the CDC's reproductive health services division. "Any tools or behaviors a woman and her partner use to plan when they will become pregnant is defined as family planning," Koonin says. Increased access to these tools, she says, has also played a role in the drop in abortion rates.

Koonin points out, however, that a part of the declining abortion rate has absolutely nothing to do with safe sex practices and greater family planning, but is simply a function of an aging population. "The baby boomers are aging and becoming less fertile. As a result, there are fewer live births overall."

More Choices

Another reason for the drop is that young people are not only gaining greater access to birth control, but they also have more choices than ever before. Beyond the condom and the pill lies a spectrum of female-controlled options, including injectable drugs, like Depo-Provera. "Depo is a very popular option with teens," says Tew. "One injection lasts three months, and a doctor's appointment every three months is easier for teens to adhere to than a daily pill."

Tew believes that an increased availability of emergency contraception has the potential to lower abortion rates even further. Emergency contraception includes the "morning-after" pill, which is taken within 72 hours after unprotected sex, or the insertion of a copper IUD (intrauterine device) to prevent an embryo from implanting up to five days after unprotected intercourse. But she repeats that "the reason why abortion numbers have dropped is primarily because couples are more successful at preventing unplanned pregnancy." Emergency contraception is simply that -- something used when the planned method may have failed -- or when there's been no planning at all.

The Role of AIDS and Other Factors

After having an abortion, Layla became involved in a safe sex campaign at the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a student, giving speeches on contraceptive options and the need for protection against HIV. "I didn't want what happened to me to happen to others," she says.

By increasing awareness about the spread of AIDS and other STDs, people like Layla are having an effect on sexual behavior. "According to the 1995 National Survey for Family Growth, condom use is up," Koonin says. "This has a lot to do with AIDS awareness."

And while Koonin believes that the drop in abortion rates is encouraging, she's not declaring victory yet. "There are still 1.2 million abortions each year in the United States. Any decline in that number is promising, but there's still a lot of work to be done in education, since most induced abortions are the result of unintended pregnancies. It's a public health issue, not a political one."

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