May 5, 2006
Use of Contraception Drops, Slowing Decline of Abortion Rate
By KATE ZERNIKE
Contraception use has declined strikingly over the last decade, particularly among poor women, making them more likely to get pregnant unintentionally and to have abortions, according to a report released yesterday by the Guttmacher Institute.
The decline appears to have slowed the reduction in the national abortion rate that began in the mid-1980's.
"This is turning back the clock on all the gains women have made in recent decades," Sharon L. Camp, the president of the institute, said.
Among sexually active women who were not trying to get pregnant, the percentage of those not using contraception increased to 11 percent from 7 percent from 1994 to 2001, the latest data available, according to numbers Guttmacher analyzed from the National Survey of Family Growth, a federal study.
The rise was more striking among women living below the poverty line: 14 percent were not using contraception in 2001, up from 8 percent in 1994. Better-off women — those who earned more than twice the poverty rate — were also less likely to use contraception: 10 percent did not use any in 2001, up from 7 percent in 1994.
The number of white women not using contraception increased to 9 percent from 7 percent; Hispanic women not using it increased to 12 percent from 9 percent; and black women not using it increased to 15 percent from 10 percent.
The rate of unintended pregnancies, which had declined 18 percent from the early 1980's to the mid-1990's, has leveled off since about 1994. That reflects a diverging trend: among poor women, the rate rose 29 percent, but among better-off women, it declined 20 percent.
The rate of unintended births — unintended pregnancies carried to term — rose by 44 percent among poor women from 1994 to 2001, but declined by 8 percent for wealthier women.
Guttmacher and other groups that work to prevent unintended pregnancy credit growing contraceptive use starting in the early 1980's for the big drop in the abortion rate, which is now at its lowest since Roe v. Wade established a constitutional right to abortion in 1973.
Slightly more women use contraception now than did in 1982, when 12 percent did not. But the decline in abortion seems to have leveled off. While the abortion rate fell an average of 3.4 percent annually in the early 1990's, it declined an average of just 0.8 percent from 2000 to 2002.
The researchers blamed reductions in federally and state-financed family planning programs for declining contraceptive use. They called for public and private insurance to cover contraceptives, and for over-the-counter access to the so-called morning-after pill, which can prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours after sex.
"We need to really go back to, and redouble, our efforts to ensure that all women are able to obtain contraceptives," Heather D. Boonstra, another author, said.
Of three million pregnancies in the United States each year, half are unintended, according to Guttmacher, and half of those are carried to term. About 14,000 women who carry the pregnancies put the children up for adoption, and 1.3 million have abortions.