New abortion data from the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization that studies reproductive health, shows that fewer women than ever are obtaining abortions nationwide. Abortion opponents call it proof that their efforts to sway women away from the procedure are working, while abortion rights advocates point to increased sexual education and contraceptive use as drivers of the decline.

In California, many women fear potentially tougher federal restrictions on abortion will jeopardize the reproductive health services they rely on and drive unplanned pregnancy, and possibly abortion, numbers up once more.

About 157,000 California women had an abortion in 2014, down 27 percent from the 214,000 who underwent the procedure in 2008, according to the institute. The national abortion rate dipped 25 percent during the same period. All but six states nationwide saw a decrease in abortion numbers between 2011 and 2014.

Rachel Jones, principal research scientist at Guttmacher, said the reasons for the drop vary from state to state. In some states, stricter abortion policies and Planned Parenthood clinic closures had an impact on the rate by limiting the number of places women could access the procedure. But in California and several other states without new abortion restrictions, increased contraceptive use is primarily responsible for the trend, she said.

“In general we think fewer women are getting pregnant when they don’t want to, which means fewer abortions,” she said. “For some women in some states it was decreased access to abortion. The states that had fewer clinics over the years, for about half it seemed clear that they changed the laws and that had attributed to the decline.”

National birth control use has climbed in recent years with more awareness and newer, more failproof methods. The proportion of men who had ever used condoms grew from 52 to 93 percent between 1982 and 2010, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Female use of intrauterine devices and contraceptive implants jumped 8 percent between 2002 and 2012, according to the Guttmacher Institute. About 62 percent of women of childbearing age nationwide are currently using some form of contraception.

Contraception has become more available and affordable in California as nonprofit groups, legislators and government agencies have pushed to reduce unplanned pregnancies. The government-funded Family Planning, Access, Care and Treatment program, administered through the state Department of Health Care Services, provides free family planning services including contraception to 1.8 million low-income residents. A 2013 state law allows women to pick up birth control over the counter.

While contraception may be one reason for the abortion decline, it doesn’t capture the whole picture, said Randall O’Bannon, director of education and research with the anti-abortion advocacy group National Right to Life in Washington, D.C. The recent closure of reproductive health clinics in some states, new laws that put up barriers to abortion and the growing “personhood movement” arguing fetuses have human rights contributed just as much, if not more, to the shift, he said.

“We believe that when women have the chance to hear other views, when given information about private and public assistance that is available to them, when ultrasound images confirm their gut feelings about the humanity of their unborn child, when they understand more clearly that abortion will not be the answer to their problems but can indeed make things worse, they’ll choose to let their babies live,” he said.

Full story at The Sacramento Bee.