Tue January 11, 2011
Shots - Health News Blog

Decline In Abortions Appears Stalled, But Protests Rise

For the first time in three decades, the number and rate of abortions performed in the United States is no longer declining, according to the latest survey from the Guttmacher Institute.

It found that in 2008, an estimated 1.2 million abortions were performed, an increase of 0.5 percent from 2005. At the same time, the abortion rate, which is considered the more accurate measure of how many abortions take place because it accounts for the size of the child-bearing population, also rose just slightly, to 19.6 from 19.4 per 1,000 women.

While the think tank is associated with the abortion-rights side of the contentious debate, those on both sides consider its periodic surveys, which seek to question every known abortion-provider in the nation, as the gold standard.

This time around Guttmacher researchers found "harassment is almost universal" at abortion providers, particularly the larger ones, said Rachel Jones, lead author of the study. Picketing remained the most common type of protest -- reported by 55 percent of abortion providers. More aggressive picketing to block access and vandalism were also reported.

For the first time the researchers asked about Internet harassment, and 3 percent of providers reported that abortion opponents had posted patient pictures on the internet. Larger clinics were most likely to report cases of harassment; 15 percent said they had received at least one bomb threat.

Protest, however, was not the same around the country. Abortion providers in the Midwest and South (75 percent) were far more likely to report having experienced some sort of harassment (85 percent) than those in the Northeast (48 percent) and West (44 percent).

Abortion opponents nationwide, however, have become increasingly concerned about medical abortion, typically using the so-called abortion pill, mifepristone. That's because unlike surgical abortion, it can be provided in doctors' offices or smaller clinics, away from public view.

The latest survey shows that early medication abortions were up 24 percent between 2005 and 2008 to 199,000. And only just over half were administered by abortion clinics. Most of the remainder were provided by non-specialized clinics. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.