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Abortion rate down, but report cites racial disparity

The decline has been far more dramatic for whites than for blacks and Latinas.

September 23, 2008|Mary Engel | Times Staff Writer

Although the overall U.S. abortion rate is at its lowest level since 1974, the drop has been far more dramatic for whites than for African Americans, who in 2004 had abortions at five times the rate of white women, according to a report released Monday.

The abortion rate for Latinas was about three times that of whites.

The Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based research group that supports abortion rights but whose statistics are generally respected by antiabortion groups, analyzed 30 years of data since the 1973 Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

The analysis found that the differences partly reflected varying pregnancy and childbearing patterns.

African American women had high rates of unintended pregnancy, 70% compared with 49% across all racial and ethnic groups. About half of unintended pregnancies in the U.S. end in abortion, the report said.

Latinas had higher pregnancy rates and higher birthrates than whites.

Abortion rates are falling for blacks and Latinas but far less than for whites.

The increasingly minority face of abortion has more to do with income than race or ethnicity, said Claire D. Brindis, a professor of pediatrics and health policy at UC San Francisco and co-director of the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health.

"Many of these women are low-income women who tend to have a higher rate of unintended pregnancy," said Brindis, who was not associated with the report. "Oftentimes, living in poverty they experience so many other challenges in their lives that they don't always know that they're eligible for family planning services or have transportation to services."

But Day Gardner, founder and president of the National Black Pro-Life Union in Washington, disagreed. She blamed the high rates on the number of inner-city clinics that performed abortions.

"It doesn't have as much to do with poverty as that the abortion facilities are there, ingrained in the neighborhoods," she said. "We as a community don't talk about this. . . . This is a silent killer among us."

The report also found that abortion rates for teenagers dropped from 33% in 1974 to 17% in 2004.

The drop in teen pregnancies began before the emphasis on abstinence-only education, the report said. It attributed the decline in part to more effective and widespread use of contraception.

The drop in teenage abortion rates has been accompanied by a rise in teen births, the report said.

It attributed the rise to a greater societal acceptance of unwed mothers, more difficulties in obtaining abortions in some parts of the country and changing attitudes toward abortion.

More than half of the women obtaining abortions in 2004 were in their 20s, and 60% already had children, the report said.

--

mary.engel@latimes.com

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