Advocates on both sides take credit for the drop.
The number of abortions in Minnesota took a dive last year to the lowest levels since 1975, and the rate of abortions among females of childbearing years may be the smallest on record, according to new data from the Minnesota Department of Health.
Abortions in Minnesota have declined steadily since 2006, but last year's 7 percent drop represents the largest annual percentage decline in almost 20 years.
In 2010, 11,505 abortions were performed in Minnesota -- 10,570 among state residents -- almost entirely by six clinics in the Twin Cities area.
The rate of Minnesotans receiving abortions, which takes into account population estimates, is believed to be lower than any previously recorded by the Health Department since it began tracking the numbers in 1975. State officials said the rate was 10.1 per 1,000 females ages 15-44, but they based the figure on 2009 population estimates until updated 2010 census data are available.
Experts could not say exactly why the numbers have fallen dramatically. Abortion rights advocates credited increased access to affordable contraception, while abortion foes pointed to legislative actions over the past decade.
Minnesota's abortion rate is well below the last reported national rate of 19.6 in 2008, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based nonprofit affiliated with Planned Parenthood until 1977. The national rate had been falling steadily since the 1980s, but that decline stalled in recent years.
Health Department spokesman John Stieger said Minnesota's birth rate also has been falling, alongside the abortion rate.
"You're seeing a drop in birth and abortions in the state," said Rachel Jones, a senior research associate with Guttmacher. "One potential explanation is the economy. People just can't afford to have kids. So they're taking extra precautions to avoid getting pregnant."
Tim Stanley, a spokesman for Planned Parenthood-Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, said more people are coming to its offices for birth control. Those are the tools people need to prevent unwanted pregnancies, Stanley said. "And unintended pregnancy is what causes abortion."
Planned Parenthood provides 35 percent of the abortions in Minnesota.
At the Midwest Health Center for Women in Minneapolis, Executive Director Pat Sandin said its staff has witnessed a similar trend. The center provided 15 percent fewer abortions last year, but demand for birth control -- particularly long-term options such as intrauterine devices -- is on the rise. Sandin said a 2006 program allowing some women to obtain government-subsidized birth control may have played a role.
"I think young women are smarter and they have many more options," Sandin said.
Abortion opponents say that a number of laws passed in recent years have helped push the number down.
"Pro-life laws save lives," said Scott Fischbach, executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. "We can directly and empirically prove that when laws that protect life are put in place, the numbers of abortions come down."
Specifically, he pointed to a 2003 law that requires physicians to inform women of abortion risks at least 24 hours before the procedure. In 2010, 14,208 women received that information and there were 11,505 abortions.
He also cited a 2005 law called Positive Alternatives, which allocates state funds for programs that encourage women to carry their pregnancies to term.
"The pregnancy is not typically the problem," Fischbach said. "The problem is they don't have the support that they need to welcome in life the baby."
The new data shed light on who is having abortions and why.
Sixty-three percent of women who received abortions in 2010 said they "do not want children at this time." Another 32 percent said they were doing so for economic reasons. Less than 1 percent said it was the result of rape or incest.
The number of minors receiving abortions dropped a whopping 17 percent last year, from 579 in 2009 to 482.
Taxpayers paid for nearly 34 percent of all abortions in 2010, 2 percent more than before. The state has paid for abortions among low-income women since a 1995 Minnesota Supreme Court decision.
Republican lawmakers passed legislation forbidding state funding of abortions this session, but it was vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton.
Eric Roper 651-222-1210 Twitter: @StribRoper