Fewer Abortions Reported

The number of legal abortions performed in the United States declined in 1997 to the lowest level in about two decades, federal health officials said yesterday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta said 1,184,758 legal induced abortions were reported in 1997, the latest year for which figures are available. That total represented a 3 percent decrease from the 1,221,585 abortions reported in 1996 and was the lowest since 1978, according to the CDC, which based its findings on figures received from the 50 states, New York City and the District of Columbia.

"Since 1990, the year in which the number of abortions was highest, the annual number of legal induced abortions in the United States has steadily declined," said Lisa Koonin, CDC chief of surveillance for reproductive health. There were 1,429,577 legal abortions reported in 1990.

When compared with the number of live births or the number of women of reproductive age, abortions in 1997 tumbled to their lowest level since 1975.

The CDC said the national abortion ratio decreased in 1997 to 305 legal abortions per 1,000 live births, the lowest for any year since 1975. In 1996 the ratio was 314 abortions per 1,000 live births, while the number of live births declined 0.3 percent from 1996 to 1997, the CDC said.

The CDC did not try to determine why abortions declined, but Koonin said factors could include a reduction in unintended pregnancies, increased use of condoms, reduced access to abortion services and changes in attitude toward the procedure.

Mammography Assessed

Mammography, one of the most widely used screening tests for breast cancer, is next to useless in reducing the death rate from the disease, Danish researchers said yesterday.

Peter Gotzsche and Ole Olsen of the Nordic Cochrane Center in Copenhagen reexamined eight previously published trials that randomly assigned women either for mammographic screening or to an unscreened control group. Six of those trials found that mammography decreased the risk of death by about 25 percent while two showed no significant effect, the researchers reported in this week's issue of the Lancet, a British medical journal. But the scientists said only those two were conducted properly.

A Resistant Staph Germ

Federal health officials said yesterday they were counting the death of a 63-year-old woman in an Illinois hospital last May as the fourth reported U.S. case of a staph germ resistant to traditional antibiotics.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the woman, who had renal failure, had been infected with Staphylococcus aureus bacteria that resisted vancomycin, the drug of last resort.

Staphylococcus bacteria are commonly found on the skin without producing any illness, but they can sometimes cause invasive diseases in the bloodstream or heart valves.

The CDC said the emergence of vancomycin resistance raised the likelihood some staph strains will become fully resistant to antimicrobial agents.