WASHINGTON — The abortion rate in the United States hit a 44-year low in 2017, according to a report released Wednesday by a research group that supports abortion rights.

The decline was experienced in both conservative-led states that have restricted the procedure and liberal-led states that have expanded access.

The number of abortions fell by 19% to 862,000 between 2011 and 2017 alone, according to data analyzed by the Guttmacher Institute, which conducts a survey of abortion providers that is widely used by both sides of the debate.

One reason for the decline is that fewer women are becoming pregnant. The institute noted that the birthrate, as well as the abortion rate, declined during the years covered by the new report.

A likely factor, the report said, is increased accessibility of contraception since 2011, as the Affordable Care Act required most private health insurance plans to cover contraceptives without out-of-pocket costs.

The nationwide rate dropped to 13.5 abortions per 1,000 girls and women ages 15 through 44 in 2017, from 16.9 abortions per 1,000 women in 2011, a decline of 20%, the institute said. That’s the lowest rate since the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

In Nebraska, the rate declined by 24.2% over that same period. It fell to 5.5 abortions per 1,000 girls and women in 2017, down from 7.2 abortions per 1,000 in 2011, according to the Guttmacher report. The numbers include abortions performed on women who come from other states to Nebraska clinics.

Nebraska laws passed since 2011 require parental consent, rather than just notification, for minors to have abortions and ban private insurance coverage of the procedure. A law that took effect this year requires that women getting medication abortions be told they may be able to continue their pregnancy if they do not take the second medication.

The abortion rate fell dramatically in several states that enacted strong anti-abortion legislation in recent years, suggesting that some of the anti-abortion movement’s efforts in state legislatures are limiting access.

Four states that enacted laws requiring clinics to have building and safety standards comparable to hospitals experienced some of the most significant declines in their abortion rates. Between 2011 and 2017, the abortion rate fell by 27% in Arizona and Ohio, by 30% in Texas and by 42% in Virginia. The number of clinics that provide abortion similarly fell in those states.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that those requirements were illegal, the laws led to the closure of clinics that did not reopen.

One significant trend documented in the report: Women who have abortions are increasingly relying on medication rather than surgery. Medication abortion, making use of the so-called abortion pill, accounted for 39% of all abortions in 2017, up from 29% in 2014.

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Abortion opponents hailed the drop in the overall number of abortions in the United States and the effect of the laws.

Guttmacher’s chief executive and president, Dr. Herminia Palacio, said the focus should not be on the rate.

“Lowering the abortion rate is not the goal here. The abortion rate is just a number,” she said. “Policy should focus on patients’ health and rights, regardless of how it might affect the abortion rate.”

The report comes amid upheaval in the federal family planning program, known as Title X. About one in five family planning clinics have left the program, objecting to a Trump administration regulation that bars them from referring women for abortions. Title X clinics provide birth control and basic health services for low-income women.

“If your priority is to reduce abortions, one of the best things you can do is make sure that women have access to high-quality, affordable and effective methods of birth control,” said Alina Salganicoff, director of women’s health policy for the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

World-Herald staff writer Martha Stoddard contributed to this report, which also includes material from the Associated Press.

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Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-473-9583.

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