Nebraska's abortion rate dropped 10 percent in five years, according to a report released Monday by the Guttmacher Institute.
In 2011, the last year for which data was available, 2,570 women got abortions in Nebraska — a rate of 7.2 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age, according to the report. The rate decreased 10 percent since 2008, when it was eight abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44.
Julie Schmit-Albin, executive director of Nebraska Right to Life, said the drop could be attributed to abortion laws passed by the Legislature — particularly the so-called fetal-pain law in 2010 that made Nebraska the first state to ban abortions beginning at the 20th week after conception. The notion that a fetus at that stage of development can feel pain — which was the reason such bans were enacted — is controversial, and supporters and opponents have brought forth contradicting science.
"We have seen Nebraska's abortion rate decline most notably in 2011 after the ... implementation of our ban on abortion at 20 weeks based upon an unborn child's ability to feel pain," Schmidt-Albin said.
She noted that Dr. LeRoy Carhart of Bellevue has since moved his late-term abortion practice to Maryland because of the law. She said the law resulted in a 14 percent drop in abortions in Sarpy County — where Carhart's clinic is — in the first six months the law was on the books.
"If that's not a direct correlation between our pain ban and the drop in abortions I don't know what is," she said.
Rachel Jones, lead author of the study, disagreed.
"With abortion rates falling in almost all states, our study did not find evidence that the national decline in abortions during this period was the result of new state abortion restrictions. We also found no evidence that the decline was linked to a drop in the number of abortion providers during this period," she said.
Jones and Susan Allen of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland said the decline in abortion is largely due to improved access to contraception and more effective methods of contraception — both of which reduce the rate of unintended pregnancy. They also said the decline in abortions coincided with a steep national drop in overall pregnancy and birth rates.
"Additionally, similar to national trends, we have seen an increase in the rate of medication abortion, which currently accounts for nearly 60 percent of the abortions Planned Parenthood of the Heartland provides," Allen said.
The report said that in 2011, state efforts to restrict abortion began to surge. States enacted 205 abortion restrictions between 2011 and 2013, more than in the entire previous decade.
The U.S. abortion rate declined to 16.9 abortions per 1,000 women, well below the 1981 peak of 29.3 per 1,000 and the lowest since 1973 (16.3 per 1,000), according to the report. Between 2008 and 2011, the U.S. abortion rate fell 13 percent, resuming the long-term downward trend that had stalled between 2005 and 2008. The number of abortions (1.1 million in 2011) also declined by 13 percent in that period.
According to the report, at current rates, about one in three American women will have had an abortion by the time she reaches age 45.
In the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a woman, in consultation with her physician, has a constitutionally protected right to choose abortion in the early stages of pregnancy — that is, before viability. In 1992, the court upheld the basic right to abortion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. However, it also expanded the ability of the states to enact all but the most extreme restrictions on women's access to abortion.
The most common restrictions in effect are parental notification or consent requirements for minors, limitations on public funding, and, as defined in the report, unnecessary and overly burdensome regulations on abortion facilities.
Other highlights of the report:
* In 2011, there were 6 million pregnancies to the 63 million women of reproductive age (15-44) in the United States. Sixty-seven percent of these pregnancies resulted in live births and 18 percent in abortions; the remaining 15 percent ended in miscarriage. In Nebraska, 33,700 of the 356,940 women of reproductive age became pregnant in 2011. 76 percent of these pregnancies resulted in live births and 8 percent in induced abortions.
* In 2011, there were five abortion providers in Nebraska; three of those were clinics. In 2008, when there were five abortion providers overall, of which two were abortion clinics.
* In 2011, 89 percent of U.S. counties had no abortion clinic. Some 38 percent of American women lived in these counties, which meant they would have to travel outside their county to obtain an abortion. Of women obtaining abortions in 2008, one-third traveled more than 25 miles. In 2011, 97 percent of Nebraska counties had no abortion clinic. Some 41 percent of Nebraska women lived in these counties.