Ohio women are having fewer abortions in the state.

Induced abortions dropped 12 percent last year, hitting an all-time low since the Ohio Department of Health started tracking them more than 35 years ago.

There were 23,250 abortions by state residents in Ohio last year, compared with 26,322 the previous year, according to the latest statistics released by the state. Overall, there were 24,764 abortions when out-of-state residents are included.

Abortions have fallen in Ohio each year since 2000. The one-year decline was the largest such dip in nearly 20 years. Abortions peaked at more than 45,000 in 1982.

Experts attribute the ongoing slide to a variety of factors, including increased use of birth control, better access to health care and improved health education. The number of overall Ohio births also has fallen 16.5 percent from 1990 to 2010.

“Regardless of where you fall on the issue, if you’re pro-choice or pro-life, less abortions, I think we can all agree, is a good thing,” said Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life in Columbus.

But the health department report includes a puzzling statistic. Medical abortions — those involving medication as opposed to surgery — fell from 5,862 to 1,234 last year.

State researchers don’t know whether women shifted to other procedures or doctors possibly underreported those abortions.

There may be another, misleading reason, experts said, for the big one-year drop: Women opting to leave Ohio for an abortion.

The decline follows a state law that took effect early last year and bars the use of the drug, RU-486, unless it is administered in compliance with Federal Drug Administration rules.

The law forbids doctors from prescribing the RU-486 pill more than seven weeks into a pregnancy and regulates the dosage of the pill. The change increased possible side effects, boosted the cost of a medical abortion and may have driven some women out of state, said Rachel Jones, senior research associate at the Guttmacher Institute, a New York research organization that compiles reproductive health data.

Stephanie Kight, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, estimated that the cost rose from $450 to a range of $550 to $650. The law also means women have to make return visits to the abortion provider, she said.

“Couldn’t we all do the thing we agree on, which is to reduce the number of abortions by making education and health-care access easier, rather than trying to make abortion more dangerous and difficult, which is what this law does,” she said.

Officials at several organizations, including the state health department, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and National Abortion Federation, declined to speculate about why Ohio experienced such a large one-year decline. The health department releases annual abortion statistics each fall. The state doesn’t collect the reasons for abortions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released nationwide abortion statistics last week showing that abortions fell 5 percent from 2008 to 2009, the latest year available. Nationally, abortions have declined 6 percent from 2000 to 2009.

Among the findings regarding Ohio women in the state report:

•?54.6 percent of the women who got abortions were white, while 37.1 percent were black.

•?83 percent were unmarried.

•?47.8 percent were over the age of 25, while 17.2 percent were under 20.

•?The majority of abortions (36 percent) were performed in Cuyahoga County. Eight percent took place in Summit County.

To read the full report, go online to www.odh.ohio.gov/healthStats/vitalstats/abortionmainpage.aspx.

Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or rarmon@thebeaconjournal.com.