For the fifth consecutive year, abortions in Utah increased during 1987, though the numbers are still less than half the national average.
A summary released this week by the Utah Department of Health shows that in 1987, there were 4,191 reported abortions by Utah residents. The total increased by less than 1 percent from 1986, but the abortion ratio (number of abortions per 1,000 live births) increased by 4 percent - from 114.3 to 118.8.Nationally, 1985 estimates indicate there was an abortion ratio of 353.8, a decrease of less than 1 percent from 1984 estimates.
Leon Van Wagoner, director of family planning for the health department, believes the lack of accessibility to family planning services has contributed to the increase.
"We would like to see a decrease in abortions, but without more education, counseling and contraceptive services, we will likely continue to see annual increases," Van Wagoner said.
The 1987 Utah figures, by age group and ranked according to total number of abortions, indicate that abortions in women aged 20-24 totaled 1,350; those in women 15 to 19 totaled 1,005; and those for women ages 25 to 29 totaled 926.
Van Wagoner says the Utah law requiring parental consent before minors can receive family planning may contribute to the large number of abortions among Utah teens.
"Too many of our kids are not well-informed about the consequences of sexual activity, and abstinence is clearly not always practiced," Van Wagoner said.
Joy Beech, founder and executive director of Families Alert, thinks Van Wagoner's reasoning is bunk.
"In my opinion it's backwards from what he says. Ever since Planned Parenthood (Association) has taken our parental consent law to court and then defied it because they claim to use federal funds, the deceit of teenagers and their sexual practices have increased," she said.
Beech insists that Planned Parenthood continues to give teenagers contraceptives without their parent's consent. "We know, from statistics kept during the last 10 years, when teenagers are given contraceptives and family practice services without parental consent, pregnancies, abortions and sexually transmitted diseases have increased dramatically," she stressed. "The only thing in America that has helped decrease teen pregnancies and abortions is a values-related education, coupled with parental involvement."
Mary Carlson, director of community services for Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, wants Utahns to more closely examine the statistics.
"What we do know is that pregnancy rates for the past eight years in Utah have gone down slightly. Of those women who are still experiencing pregnancies, the number who are choosing abortions is increasing slightly," she said. "But these are women who may not be utilizing family planning services and whose life circumstances possibly leave them with few options."
Carlson added, "The important thing is that we are beginning to have an impact on young teen pregnancy. If we want to deal with abortion, we have to address the issue of unintended pregnancies, and that's where family planning is critical."
According to the health department's report, 85 percent of Utahns who had abortions reside in Davis, Utah, Salt Lake and Weber counties. The counties account for 77 percent of the state's population. Unmarried women continue to make up the majority of those choosing to have abortions and represented more than 80 percent of the Utah total in 1987.