LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Abortions in Nebraska have fallen to at least a 20-year low following numerous state laws that restrict the practice, but some say a variety of factors may be behind the trend.
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services said the number dropped to 2,299 last year, a decline of more than 3 percent. The numbers have dropped consistently since 1992, when more than 5,600 abortions were reported.
The ratio of abortions-to-births has fallen as well. Last year, there were 87.5 abortions for every 1,000 live births. Twenty years earlier, the ratio was 238.4 abortions per 1,000 live births. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services compiles the data but hasn't explored why the numbers have fallen, said spokeswoman Leah Bucco-White.
The state decline mirrors a national drop in abortions.
Nebraska approved a first-of-its-kind law in 2010 that bans abortions starting at 20 weeks into the pregnancy, based on assertions that fetuses feel pain at that stage of development. Abortion opponents argue studies and testimony from doctors prove fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks gestation. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that it knows of no legitimate evidence that fetuses can experience pain. The law went into effect in October 2010.
"I suspect that (the law) continues to drive the numbers of abortions down," said Julie Schmit-Albin, executive director of Nebraska Right to Life.
The decline in abortions could also be due to a number of other factors, including women who have learned to use birth control more effectively, said University of Nebraska assistant law professor Beth Burkstrand-Reid.
"I don't think anybody knows for sure," said Burkstrand-Reid, a national expert on reproductive rights and women's health. "It's difficult to know whether there's a correlation between any of the abortion restrictions and the nationwide trend."
Burkstrand-Reid said the number of abortions might drop even faster now that the morning-after pill has become available over the counter. In June, the federal government approved unrestricted over-the-counter sales for the Plan B One-Step pill and generic emergency contraceptives.
The recession may have played a role in the decline by encouraging women to use birth control until their financial situation improves.
"If people do not have a job, they will likely think about whether to have children at that time," Burkstrand-Reid said.
The decline coincides with an overall drop in abortions throughout the United States, though rates among poor women have increased, according to the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, a group that researches sexual and reproductive health.
"Abortion rights have been declining for about a decade," said Rebecca Wind, a spokeswoman for the institute. "We've seen it nationally and in just about every state."
Nebraska remains a leader in restricting abortions, despite an unusually quiet legislative session this year in which no major abortion-related laws passed. One proposal that would have let health providers opt out of services they find morally objectionable, such as prescribing contraceptives, didn't make it out of a committee.
In recent years, lawmakers and Gov. Dave Heineman have approved laws that prohibit the use of telemedicine to administer abortion drugs and required parental consent for minors. Women must also receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage them from having an abortion, followed by a 24-hour waiting period. Abortion is covered in private insurance policies only in cases when a mother's life is endangered, unless the insured buys an optional rider at additional cost.