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Teens Spearhead U.S. Abortion-Rate Drop

Despite Overall Decline, Abortions Up for Poor Women
WebMD Health News

Oct. 9, 2002 -- They feel like celebrating over at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. That's because of a new study showing that the abortion rate for teens 15-17 years old dropped 39% during the late 1990s.

"This is a tremendous achievement. We should hold a big national block party for teens," Campaign director Sarah Brown tells WebMD. "The teen birth rate is going down over the same interval. The worry has always been that teens are getting pregnant a lot and just having abortions. This shows that the reason the teen birth rate is going down is that the teen pregnancy rate is going down."

There's more good news: It's not just teens. There was a nationwide 11% drop in the abortion rate -- that is, the number women who had an abortion per 1,000 women of childbearing age. This fell from 24 per 1,000 in 1994 to 21 per 1,000 in 2000. It continues a steady decline in the abortion rate since 1987.

On the other hand, there's been only a small decline in the percentage of pregnancies that end in abortion. That's held relatively steady: one in four U.S. pregnancies are aborted.

The findings come in a report from the Alan Guttmacher Institute, an independent affiliate of the Planned Parenthood Federation. AGI senior researcher Rachel K. Jones, PhD, and colleagues collected questionnaires from 10,683 women seeking abortions at eight U.S. hospitals and 92 clinics. They also used data collected in a recent survey of abortion providers.

Despite the good news on teens, Jones says, the study shows that unwanted pregnancy continues to be a huge problem for many Americans.

"A lot of people are emphasizing the decline in the abortion rate, but the fact that there were 1.3 million abortions in 2000 shows that unintended pregnancy is an issue that women need to deal with," Jones says. "Abortion isn't good or bad, it is a fact of life. Unintended pregnancy is a social problem we need to address. It's not just about abortion. There are plenty of unintended pregnancies that are carried to term. There are a lot of women who don't want to get pregnant who do get pregnant."

Perhaps the worst news from the AGI study is that abortion rates went up for the poorest women. Women whose household income is less than twice the federal poverty level -- $35,300 for a family of four -- have abortions 4.4 times as often as the wealthiest women in the study. These poorer women represent less than a third of all American women of reproductive age, yet they account for 57% of all abortions.

Carol J. Hogue, PhD, MPH, former director of reproductive health at the CDC, now is a professor of maternal and child health at Atlanta's Emory University. She notes that Medicaid now covers fewer poor women. Moreover, federal funds for Title X -- which pays for contraceptive services not covered by Medicaid -- have not increased since 1994.

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