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Rural Pennsylvania areas see abortion numbers drop 47 counties report no abortions in 1994


PHILADELPHIA - Although abortion has been legal for 24 years, it seems to be disappearing from vast rural stretches of Pennsylvania, a new report shows.

The Clara Bell Duvall Education Fund, an abortion-rights group in Philadelphia, analyzed state abortion data and surveyed hospitals that offer obstetrical-gynecological services. It found that the number of counties with more than five abortions per year declined by more than half in the last generation - from 33 counties in 1975 to 15 in 1994.

Of the state's 67 counties, 47 reported no abortions in 1994, compared with 26 counties in 1975.

Two trends have made abortion services less accessible, said the report, released this month. Many hospitals no longer perform abortions, while specialty clinics that have filled the gap are clustered around the state's three major metropolitan areas - Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.

"We're talking about something that's legal and that most people assume is accessible," said Karen Mariner, the Duvall Fund's educational associate. "For women in rural counties, that's just not the case."

The state picture mirrors national trends. By 1992, a quarter of all abortions in the United States were performed in five urban centers - New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington and San Francisco - and less than 2 percent were performed in counties outside metropolitan areas, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights research organization in New York City. Most of these abortions were done in clinics or doctor's offices, not hospitals.

The scarcity of rural abortion services has combined with other factors to help reduce the number of abortions, say activists on ++ both sides of the issue. Those factors include state abortion-control laws, such as Pennsylvania's, that impose waiting periods and require parental consent for teens seeking abortion; anti-abortion activists' promotion of alternatives to abortion; fear of anti-abortion violence; and better use of contraception.

Abortion foes also believe they have swayed public opinion.

"The overwhelming factor is the realization among the population in general, and the female population in particular, that abortion is not the way to go. It is morally wrong," John Stanton, executive director of Pro Life Union Inc. of Southeastern Pennsylvania, said.

The most recent available figures show that abortions have fallen to the lowest level in 20 years - 1.2 million nationwide, with 39,000 in Pennsylvania, federal and Pennsylvania health officials reported.

Pub Date: 2/25/97

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