WASHINGTON – Maryland’s abortion rate rose in the 1990s at the same time that the national rate was declining, according to numbers from the Census Bureau and a leading research group on reproductive health.
The bureau and the Alan Guttmacher Institute said the abortion rate for every 1,000 women of childbearing age in Maryland rose about 10 percent from 1996 to 2000, the most recent year for which figures are available. The national rate fell about 5 percent in the same period, the institute said.
But while Maryland gets high marks from pro-choice groups for providing access to abortion, one pro-choice activist questioned whether the statistics on abortion rates were reliable.
“I cannot honestly say that the abortion rate has gone up” in the state, said John Nugent, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Maryland.
He noted that Maryland is one of a few states that do not require abortions to be reported, which makes it difficult to get an accurate number.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, reports an abortion rate in Maryland that is based on abortions reported to the state, while the Guttmacher Institute calls every abortion provider to get its number. In 2000, the CDC’s estimated abortion rate for Maryland was about one-third of the estimate by the Guttmacher Institute.
Regardless of which numbers are used, it points to the fact that Maryland’s abortion laws are too lax, say pro-life groups as they mark the 32nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that recognized a woman’s right to an abortion.
“A lot of people come here because Maryland is one of the top five liberal states” for abortion laws, said Cookie Harris, assistant director of speakers at Defend Life in Maryland. “That attracts a lot of people from out of state who otherwise couldn’t get an abortion in their states.”
The Guttmacher Institute data appears to back her up. It said women from other states accounted for about 7 percent of the abortions in Maryland in 2000.
The institute said that the number of abortions in Maryland was 26.3 per 1,000 women from age 15 to 44 in 1996 and the number rose to 29 per 1,000 in 2000. During the same period, it said, the abortion rate nationally fell from 22.4 to 21.3.
Drawing on the work of Guttmacher Institute Senior Fellow Stanley Henshaw and other unpublished data, the Census bureau came up with essentially the same numbers for Maryland, reporting a rate of 26.2 in 1996 and 29 in 2000.
But the CDC’s Abortion Surveillance reports show significantly lower abortion rates for Maryland — as low as eight abortions per 1,000 women in 1997 to a high of 11 in 2001.
Guttmacher Institute spokeswoman Rebecca Wind said the institute’s report gives a “more complete” picture because it gathers information by calling every known abortion provider in the country.
“There is a serious undercount of numbers of abortions reported because they (Maryland health providers) are not compelled to do so, which would explain the difference,” Wind said, referring to the CDC’s reliance on state health statistics.
Henshaw attributed Maryland’s relatively high abortion rate to a large African-American population and ready availability of abortion services, especially in big cities and urban areas.
“A lot of the abortions are for low-income women, mainly for black women,” Henshaw said.
At the same time, he said, the number of women getting abortions nationwide fell due to less accessibility of abortion services and a reluctance to use abortion to resolve unwanted pregnancies.
He also noted that women of all ages are making better use of contraceptives and teenagers are becoming “more cautious about sexual activity and, in some cases, postponing” it.
But Harris said more needs to be done to discourage sexual activity and abortions among teens in Maryland.
“Something is not right,” Harris said. “Schools are teaching that it’s OK to have sex, but just be protected.”
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