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Abortion numbers on decline

January 22, 1998

Abortion numbers on decline

By LAURA ERNDE

Staff Writer

Twenty-five years after the Supreme Court made abortion legal, the number of abortions being performed in Hagerstown and across the country have declined.

Opinions on the reason for the decrease depend on who you ask.

Abortion rights advocates worry it is because abortion is becoming less accessible, especially to poor women and rural women.

Abortion foes say that perhaps they have convinced more women to choose alternatives like adoption or keeping the baby.

The answer may be something as simple as more people using contraception, said Diane Silas, director of Hagerstown Reproductive Health Services, the only clinic where abortions are performed in the Tri-State area.

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"It's a theory that makes sense to me," Silas said, especially given the risk of contracting the AIDS virus.

In the early 1990s, the Hagerstown clinic scheduled about 50 patients a week.

Now, they see about 35 to 40 patients, she said.

Silas had only anecdotal information because the clinic's records burned in a May 1996 accidental electrical fire. The fire was not connected to clinic violence across the country.

In Maryland, the number of abortions has been steadily dropping since 1990, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

But it's hard to draw conclusions because several clinics stopped reporting the voluntary statistics in that same time period, said department spokesman Brian Flanagan.

In Pennsylvania, the number of abortions dropped by 24 percent from 47,750 in 1991 to 36,158 in 1996, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Fewer women from Franklin and Fulton counties chose to have the procedure, the statistics show.

Statistics on abortions in West Virginia were not available.

Most of the patients at Hagerstown Reproductive Health Services come from Washington, Frederick and Allegany counties in Maryland, Berkeley County, W.Va., and Franklin County, Pa., Silas said.

"We see a lot of young women who don't remember when abortion was illegal," Silas said.

More Pennsylvania women cross the Mason-Dixon line to have abortions, a few from as far away as Pittsburgh, Silas said.

She said she believes they are trying to escape 1994 Pennsylvania laws requiring parental notification for those under 18 and a 24-hour waiting period.

While some think abortion rights are being eroded, abortion opponents believe the opposite has happened since the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision 25 years ago today.

"It's disheartening that there hasn't been really anything to roll back the extent of that decision," said Mark Barnett, who organizes the annual Life Chain demonstration in Hagerstown.

Although national polls show a majority of Americans still support a woman's right to choose abortion, Barnett believes attitudes are slowly changing.

"It's like the direction of the Titanic. It's going to take awhile," he said.

Today, abortion opponents will make their annual March for Life from the White House to the Supreme Court.

Among them will be Dean Pryor, 24, youth pastor at Grace Brethren Church in Hagerstown.

"One thing that always hits me is to know of all those other 25-year-olds and younger that would be alive today and would have perhaps been given the same opportunity as I was given at life," he said.

The anniversary has been marked by a week of demonstrations on both sides of the issue.

Abortion rights supporters gathered outside the Supreme Court Tuesday to share personal experiences from both before and after the ruling that legalized the procedure.

Linda Smith of Hagerstown was 25 when the landmark case was decided. She remembers working to collect signatures on a petition for abortion rights.

"We have had to continue to fight ever since for that right we were told was ours. It's really sad," said Smith, spokeswoman for the Washington County chapter of the National Organization for Women.

Smith said abortion foes have called her "murderer" as she escorted women into the local clinic.

Abortion may be legal, but it's not always accessible, she said.

Fewer clinics perform abortions and fewer doctors are being trained to perform the procedure.

A climate of fear has been created by clinic violence in recent years, she said.

"It's not that we want to see more abortions performed. We would like to see the number of abortions decrease also," she said.

But until there is a method of contraception that is 100 percent effective, there will be a need for abortion, she said.

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