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Teens Spearhead U.S. Abortion-Rate Drop

Despite Overall Decline, Abortions Up for Poor Women

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"Poor women have suffered a tremendous blow to their ability to control their fertility," Hogue tells WebMD. "This study points out that social policies -- level funding of Title X, decline in the number of poor women eligible for Medicaid, and the push to employment for people on welfare -- increase abortions for poor women. They find themselves pregnant and choose to abort because have no means of taking care of a child. They have to work."

Randall K. O'Bannon, PhD, director of education and research for the National Right to Life Committee, partially agrees with Hogue.

"During the last administration we raised the point that welfare reform should not increase pressure on a young woman to have an abortion," O'Bannon tells WebMD. "If in that whole process there are people who feel their options are few -- or that there is no option -- that kind of thing can happen."

O'Bannon, however, does not think that the decline in the U.S. abortion rate is due to more widespread use of contraceptives.

"Among women who become pregnant, a smaller percentage is aborting their babies. That is not impacted by abstinence or contraception," O'Bannon says. "People now have a better sense of what the unborn child is like. ... The campaign to ban partial-birth abortion has opened a lot of people's eyes. When people began to find out this is not some side issue about rights, but that another human being is involved, I think that began to change a lot of people's minds. There also has been a tremendous outgrowth of pregnancy care centers, better known as pregnancy crisis centers. They have been out there letting women know there are alternatives to abortion. Women can get financial support, they can get things to help them understand adoption, and they can get help to work with their parents and the father of the child. Now, women don't feel forced to have an abortion. Now, women understand there are other life-affirming options for them."

Hogue says such efforts are misguided.

"If the right-to-life people want to help poor people they should advocate for increased Title X funding," she says. "If you don't want abortions, you should help keep people from facing the problem of unintended pregnancy. The only way for women to avoid making the choice to have abortions is for them to be able to avoid being pregnant when they don't want to be pregnant."

Hogue and Jones each say that while much of the focus has been on preventing teen pregnancy, the real issue is women in their early 20s. Women age 20-24 have the highest abortion rate of any age group.

"We've been focusing on the teens now for the last two decades, but the fact is that unintended pregnancy is largely a problem of adults," Hogue says. "If we don't have sex education in the schools, where are young men and women learning about responsible parenthood? They enter adulthood uninformed and with these reductions in services they are less capable as a group in controlling their fertility."

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