Jan. 15--The USA's abortion rate in 2000 fell to its lowest level since 1974, the year after the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision legalized the procedure, according to new data from a non-profit reproductive health research group.

Researchers at the Alan Guttmacher Institute surveyed abortion providers and found:
  • In 2000, there were 21.3 abortions per 1,000 women age 15 to 44, down from a rate of 22 in 1996. The abortion rate ranged from 1 per 1,000 in Wyoming to 39 in New York.
  • The U.S. abortion rate has been declining since the peak of 29 in 1980, says Lawrence Finer, Guttmacher's assistant research director.
  • The actual number of abortions also declined slightly from 1996 to 2000, from 1.36 million to 1.31 million.
  • The percentage of counties that had no abortion provider rose slightly from 1996 to 2000, from 86% to 87%. The number of facilities performing abortions declined about 10% in that time period, from 2000 to 1,819. However, Finer says, the proportion of abortion providers who reported having been harassed, including through picketing and vandalism, declined.

    During that period, only a third of women of reproductive age lived in counties without an abortion provider. A quarter of women who had an abortion in 2000 traveled 50 miles or more to get one, according to the Guttmacher data. The vast majority of abortions were performed in clinics. Only 3% were done in hospitals, and 2% were done in doctors' offices.

    The study was not designed to quantify how different factors might have contributed to declines in abortion rate and access, Finer says. Factors might include:

  • Price. For the first time in recent memory, Finer says, the cost of a surgical abortion increased, after accounting for inflation, to $372 at 10 weeks gestation.
  • Fewer unintended pregnancies. Finer cites new contraceptives and wider use of emergency contraception, or "morning-after pills." And increasingly, young people are abstaining from sexual intercourse or requiring partners to wear condoms because they fear contracting sexually transmitted infections, says Mildred Hanson of Minneapolis, who has performed abortions for more than 40 years.
  • RU-486. Medical abortions represented 6% of total abortions in 2000, the year in which RU-486, sold as Mifeprex, came on the market. Since then, Finer says, sales reportedly have increased.
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