Abortion rates are down. Why? Family planning may be the key.
May 8, 2000 -- The year was 1986. It was before Planned Parenthood was the
obvious first stop along the road to becoming sexually active, before
high-school students were well versed in their contraceptive options -- at
least in West Texas. College freshman Layla Carter, 18, (not her real name)
started having sex during her first semester with a boy she'd met at a
fraternity party. "We were both shy and inexperienced, and, even though it
sounds crazy now, neither one of us brought up birth control," she recalls.
"We only had sex about once a week, and he pulled out each time. I figured
the chances of getting pregnant were pretty low." She figured wrong.
Three weeks after Layla was due for her period, the pregnancy test came back
positive. "I was in a state of shock," she says. "I felt I had no
choice but to have an abortion. I couldn't tell my parents, who would have made
me have the baby, and the boy I was dating wasn't at all supportive."
With the help of a friend, Layla made an appointment at the only abortion
clinic in town. "I look back on that experience and think, 'How could I
have been so stupid to not use protection?' But then I try to remind myself
that the culture back then was so different. AIDS was just beginning to be
publicized, and safe sex wasn't a cool concept -- it was merely something
embarrassing you hoped your parents wouldn't bring up at the dinner
Family Planning Up, Abortion Rates Down
Though teenagers still hope safe sex talk won't come up at the dinner table,
times have changed since Layla came of age. A total of 1,184,758 legal induced
abortions were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
in 1997 (the most recent year for which statistics are available) -- a 3% drop
from the previous year, according to a report released in January by the CDC.
Twenty percent of the abortions were performed on women aged 19 and below; 32%
on women between the ages of 20 and 24; and the majority, 48%, on women over
the age of 25. In addition, the total number of abortions performed on women of
all age groups in 1997 was the lowest since 1978, and the rate (number of
abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age) and ratio (number of abortions
per 1,000 live births) were the lowest since 1975.
One big reason for the drop in the number of abortions, say experts, is that
family planning is up. "These findings are encouraging," says Susan
Tew, deputy director of communications at the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a
reproductive health research organization. "It's not that fewer people are
having sex. Instead, we are doing a better job of family planning in this