By Jessica Bakeman
ALBANY - New York has the highest teen abortion rate in the country, but per capita pregnancy and abortion rates among 15- to 19-year-olds have steadily declined over the last two decades, according to a report this week.
Excluding miscarriages, nearly 60 percent of pregnancies among 15- to 19-year-olds in New York end in abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute analysis.
"There are at least two factors in play for the higher abortion rates in New York as compared to the rest of the country," said Laura Lindberg, senior research associate with the institute, a policy group based in Washington, D.C., that focuses on reproductive rights.
"The first would be a different set of cultural and social values, which are more supportive of the decision to end a pregnancy among teenagers," she said. "And the second would be greater access."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and women's groups are pushing a bill to codify federal abortion rights into state law. Critics -- particularly conservative groups and the Catholic church -- said the controversial measure would further expand access to abortions in New York.
"One thing we don't need more of in New York is abortions, as these numbers clearly demonstrate," said Dennis Poust, spokesman for the state Catholic Conference. "It further shows the folly of Governor Cuomo's embrace of more abortions in New York."
Tara Sweeney, spokeswoman for NARAL Pro-Choice New York, said the state's relatively high abortion rates should not be used as an excuse to restrict abortion rights or as a factor in women's decisions.
"Every woman's situation is different. When a woman is facing the decision of how to proceed with pregnancy, she's talking with her health-care providers, she's talking with those closest to her about what's best for her and her family," Sweeney said. "She's not consulting the statewide data."
The report, released Monday, shows that New York had 37 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19 in 2008, the most recent year for which data was available. The statistics are from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics.
New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware and Hawaii had relatively high rates in 2008, with 26 or more abortions per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19. South Dakota had the lowest in 2008, with five abortions per 1,000.
Nationally, there were 18 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19. That is the lowest rate since abortion was legalized federally in 1973, and it's 35 percent lower than the peak rate, which was in 1991 when there were 62 abortions per 1,000 women.
"I'm not the least bit surprised that New York's policies and where we are as a state has led to high teen pregnancy and teen abortion rates," said Jason McGuire, executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a conservative policy group with Christian leadership.
McGuire said the state should increase restrictions on abortion, such as requiring minors to obtain parental consent or undergo counseling. While some other states have such regulations, New York does not.
More than half of teenage pregnancies in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut ended in abortion in 2008 -- not including those that ended in miscarriage. In New York, 59 percent of teen pregnancies -- nearly 25,000 -- ended in abortion.
In that year, there were about 17,300 live births and 5,950 miscarriages or stillbirths among pregnant teens.
Black teens accounted for 45 percent of the state's abortions in 2008, although they make up just 23 percent of the population in that age group. White girls had 25 percent of the abortions; they're 56 percent of the population.
Teen abortions have steadily decreased in New York, though -- partly because there's been an overall decrease in teen pregnancies.
In 1988, the state had 61 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19. The rate decreased to 59 per 1,000 in 1992, 40 in 2005 and 37 in 2008.
New York ranked 18th for teen pregnancy rates and 44th for teen birth rates.
According to the report, teen pregnancy has declined in New York and nationwide largely because of an increase in the use of contraceptives, as well as a modest decrease in sexual activity among teens.
Poust said the Catholic church offers help to girls and women who want to carry their pregnancies to term but do not have the means.
"These are girls who need more help to care for the babies," he said. "Oftentimes, they are pressured by parents and boyfriends to abort, where women who are older might have more independence and support systems."
Lindberg, from the Guttmacher Institute, said that more abortions in New York means a lower birthrate among teen mothers -- which she said can be a positive outcome for individuals and society.
"Being a teen mother has negative consequences for both the mother and the child, and abortion is one choice among many that teenage girls make to protect their futures," she said. "Having access to that right is important."
Women's groups said New York has intensified sex education efforts, causing more teens to delay sex.
"For those adolescents who still choose to engage in sexual activity, (we teach) how to protect themselves and how to prevent sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS and pregnancy," said Tracey Brooks, CEO of Family Planning Advocates, the lobbying group for Planned Parenthood. "I think we're seeing a great success rate."
Here's the report: