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Abortion Rate for Girls Under 15 Lowest in 20 Years

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The abortion rate for pregnant girls under age 15 is the lowest it has been since the federal government started keeping such statistics nearly two decades ago, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

In 1989, girls younger than 15 had 886 abortions for every 1,000 live births, a drop from the ratio of 949 abortions per 1,000 births the previous year, the ãŸäŸãŸ found in a study released last month. The 1989 figure is the lowest such ratio since the government began recording abortion statistics in 1974.

Over all, the number of abortions among U.S. women increased nearly 2 percent from 1988 to 1989, when 1.4 million legal abortions were performed. The upswing occurred because more older women were having abortions, the study shows.

Based on data collected from health agencies in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, the study examined abortion ratios for women from under age 15 to over 40.

Girls under 15 represented only 1 percent of the total number of abortions in 1989, according to the study. Women ages 15 to 19 had nearly 24 percent of the abortions reported.

One expert last week advised caution in interpreting the C.D.C. figures.

"The reason that [the rate of] abortions went down for [girls under 15] is not that abortions went down, but that births went up,'' said Dr. Stanley Henshaw, the deputy director of research for the Alan Guttmacher Institute. The numbers reflect both a shrinking teenage population and a climbing teenage birth rate, he said.

'Increased Consciousness'

But another observer said the data show the success of anti-abortion counseling, adoption programs, and services to unwed mothers.

"There is more information and an increased consciousness about what is going on in [young girls'] bodies,'' said Kristi Hamrick, the spokeswoman for the Family Research Council, a group that opposes abortion. "All this discussion on abortion means they have a lot more to think about.''

Dr. Henshaw acknowledged that the high-profile debate over abortion may have had an effect on young girls' decisions about dealing with pregnancies..

"It might be that they have been influenced to believe that abortion is wrong or unavailable,'' he said. "A lot of young teenagers think abortion is illegal.''

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