Abortion rates across the United States have dropped to the lowest point in nearly four decades, and a dip in numbers in New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania follows that national trend.

 

The new report from the national reproductive-rights group the Guttmacher Institute tracks abortion from 2008 to 2011, a time before a series of state-level efforts to restrict abortion.

The decline may be a good thing, said Susan Schewel, director of the Women's Medical Fund in Philadelphia. Her group provides financial help and other support to low-income women who want to end a pregnancy.

"It's very exciting, we know that the way to decrease abortion is to decreases unintended pregnancies," Schewel said. "According to this study, the unintended pregnancy rate is going down, which means women are using more contraception and better contraception."

Dayle Steinberg is CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania, where she says many more patients are asking for long-term and reversible birth control options, such as the IUD, or intrauterine device.

"I just think the long-acting effects of these are really attractive to women," Steinberg said. "They're just easier to use, you don't have to take a pill every day."

Melissa Weiler Gerber, executive director of the Family Planning Council in Philadelphia, said researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have studied how women make birth control decisions. That work found that patients who used short-term birth control methods, such as the patch or pills, were 20 times more likely to have an unintended pregnancy than those who use longer-acting forms such an IUD or implant.

Weiler Gerber said national abortion-rights groups are monitoring how the requirements of the Affordable Care Act are being applied to women's health. Some are people are worried that insurance companies will force women to try a cheaper method of contraception such the vaginal ring or pills, which have a higher rate of user-error.

"And only after they have demonstrated that that did not work — that there was a failure with that method -- would they be allowed to go to a higher-tiered method like a long-acting reversible contraception," Weiler Gerber said.

The Guttmacher researchers did not examine the reasons for the drop in abortion rates, but they said an overall lower birth rate -- tied to the sluggish economy -- may have helped push down abortion rates.

The study examines the numbers of both surgical and terminations achieved using the abortion-pill.

In Pennsylvania in 2011, there were about 15.1 abortions for every 1,000 women aged 15 to age 44 — down from 17 per 1,000 in 2008. For Delaware the abortion rate was 28.4 per 1,000 in 2011 down from 40 per 1,000 four years earlier. For New Jersey, it was 27.1 in 2011 versus 31.3 in 2008.

Abortion policy watcher Micaiah Bilger said the drop in abortion rates in recent decades may be tied to modern technology.

"It really allow us a window to the womb, to see things about the unborn child that we couldn't see 30, 40 years ago," said Bilger, education coordinator with the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation.

Guttmacher researchers said their 2008-2011 study predates a general crackdown on abortion access. But in future years, the Philadelphia region may be a good test case for comparing the effects of new laws on abortion because of the differing legislative approaches in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

"New Jersey is one of the few states that does not have a parental notification law," said Marie Tasy,  executive director New Jersey Right to Life. "There are no informed consent or waiting periods and that is due to the fact that our legislature has refused to post any pro-life legislation."

Laura Benshoff contributed to this report.