WASHINGTON – The number and rate of abortions in Maryland has increased since 1996, putting the state at odds with the overall national decline in abortions, according to a study released this week.
The study by the Alan Guttmacher Institute said abortions in Maryland grew from 31,310 in 1996 to 34,560 in 2000, while the rate of abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44 rose 11 percent.
Nationally, abortions fell by 47,000 from 1996 to 2000 and the rate of abortions decreased by 5 percent. That was a continuation of a steady decline that began in 1990, according to the report.
The report’s authors could not be reached Wednesday to speculate on why the numbers have changed and officials with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene refused to comment on the report.
But pro-choice and anti-abortion groups were eager to discuss the causes behind the increase.
David Lam, executive director of the Maryland chapter of the National Right To Life Committee, blamed the “tragic” increase on what he called Maryland’s lax abortion laws and the state’s use of Medicaid dollars to pay for some abortions.
“Maryland funds abortion on demand,” Lam said. “These are lives that are being snuffed out because these people are using abortion as a means of birth control.”
But it is a lack of available birth control that is driving the increase, said officials at several family planning organizations in the state.
Diana Onken, an organizer at the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, said that about 44 percent of the low-income women who need family planning services in Maryland never get them because of their financial situations.
“The abortion rate in Maryland has increased largely due to the lack of family planning services for women. Women in need are not getting subsidized family planning services,” she said.
Onken said women need access to the full range of reproductive services, from sex education to the emergency contraceptive pill to abortion.
Wendy Royalty, of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, also said that unintended pregnancies due to inadequate family planning are a leading factor in Maryland’s high abortion numbers.
Royalty noted that there has not been an increase in funding since 1996 for the Maryland Family Planning Program, which is designed to help pay for contraception for uninsured individuals who do not qualify for Medicaid.
Royalty said that birth-control pills can cost $30 to $50 per month, in addition to the cost of doctor visits, money that most of these women do not have.
The Guttmacher Institute report came from a survey of all known abortion providers, said institute spokeswoman Jennifer Nadeau.
The report said abortions have been on the decline nationally since 1990, with 200,000 fewer abortions in 2000 than in 1992.
Maryland had the fifth-highest increase in rate of abortions, at 11 percent. Delaware led the nation, with a 31 percent increase in the abortion rate, while Virginia and the District of Columbia experienced decreases of 5 percent and 39 percent respectively.
Lam said that if Maryland followed federal guidelines that only allow public money to be spent on abortions in the case of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother, it would follow the national trend and see a decline.
But Maryland’s guidelines, which allow publicly funded abortions if a mother feels there is a danger to her mental health, are simply too soft, he said, and he expects the increases to continue.