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Number of Abortion Providers At Its Lowest in Three Decades

By Ceci Connolly
THE WASHINGTON POST -- The number of U.S. abortion providers has fallen to its lowest level in three decades, a trend many physicians ascribe to a hostile political environment, hospital mergers, and a lack of enthusiasm for teaching the procedure at most medical schools.

In 2000, nearly 30 years after the Supreme Court legalized abortion, researchers at the Alan Guttmacher Institute say, there were just 1,819 physicians performing abortions, down from 2,000 four years earlier. The new survey, released on the eve of Wednesday’s 30th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, also found that 87 percent of the counties in the United States do not have a single abortion provider.

Over the same four-year period, the number of abortions dipped slightly, from 1.36 million to 1.31 million in 2000, the most recent statistics available. Ninety percent of the abortions in the United States were done in the first trimester.

Guttmacher researcher Lawrence Finer said the results reflect a mixed picture. “The availability of new contraceptive methods is helping avoid unintended pregnancies,” he said.

“In other instances, though,” Finer said, anti-abortion activists have thwarted efforts to “establish basic abortion services” in some communities. “That has had a direct impact.”

About six percent of the Guttmacher Institute’s budget comes from Planned Parenthood, which supports abortion rights, and 20 percent comes from the federal government.

Abortion rights opponents said they do not dispute the statistics in the survey. They said the statistics are positive indicators that women and physicians are turning away from a procedure they find morally reprehensible. Abortion rights advocates, however, said that in a nation in which 44 percent of women will have at least one abortion, the dwindling number of trained providers is tantamount to a denial of basic health services.

“Even though the goal is to make abortion less necessary, reproductive health care is totally incomplete without the component of pregnancy termination and abortion.” said Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League: Pro-Choice America.

Leaders of the anti-abortion Christian Medical Association disputed the need for abortion training. Kathi Aultman, a Florida doctor who performed abortions until the birth of her child, said it is a mistake to suggest that a drop in abortion training jeopardizes women’s health.