BISMARCK – The number of abortions performed in North Dakota last year dropped to the lowest level in at least 35 years, which the director of the state’s lone abortion clinic attributes to better availability and insurance coverage of contraceptives.

The Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo performed 1,166 abortions last year, down from 1,264 in 2014, according to the state Department of Health, which began tracking abortion statistics in 1981.

The previous low was 1,182 abortions in 2013, while the high was 3,076 in 1982.

Clinic director Tammi Kromenaker attributed the drop in abortions in part to Medicaid expansion and the federal Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, which requires that new health insurance plans provide birth control as a preventive service without a patient co-pay.

Kromenaker said the clinic inserted birth-control implants in about 20 percent of its patients last year – most of whom were abortion patients – with similar numbers in 2014 and 2013.

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“We have made that part of our mission, to make those best and most-effective forms of birth control available to our patients,” she said.

The decline in abortions also follows a national trend, she said, citing a Guttmacher Institute study that found the abortion rate between 2008 and 2011 dropped from 19 abortions to 17 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44. The decline was driven by a steep drop in the unintended pregnancy rate, which declined by 18 percent to the lowest level in three decades and was “most plausibly explained by improved contraceptive use,” the institute reported.

Of the abortions performed in North Dakota last year, 822 of the women were from North Dakota, 280 were from Minnesota, 55 were from South Dakota and nine were from other states.

In a statement issued Thursday, Bishop John Thomas Folda of Fargo, speaking as president of the North Dakota Catholic Conference, noted that numbers from the state Department of Health show 6.77 percent of pregnant women in North Dakota had an abortion in 2015 - the lowest percentage since 1998, the first year that statistic started being tracked.

Fulda said the downward trend “is a testament to the hard and often difficult work of pregnancy centers, adoption agencies, maternity homes which have expanded and touched so many women and children during these years. It is also a testament to the commitment of North Dakotans to the culture of life at every level.”

North Dakota’s Republican-controlled Legislature has passed a flurry of abortion-restricting bills since 2011, but Kromenaker said she doesn’t believe that’s responsible for the decline in overall abortions, noting she doesn’t hear questions anymore about whether abortion is still legal in North Dakota like she did in 2013.

Medora Nagle, executive director of the anti-abortion group North Dakota Right to Life, said she believes efforts to educate women about alternatives such as adoption and the “brutal” nature of abortion procedures have contributed to the decline in abortions.

As for the more restrictive laws, “it’s hard to say” what impact they’ve had, Nagle said.

“But I think we need to pass some more laws to have a bigger effect,” she said.

The North Dakota attorney general’s office has spent more than $570,000 in state and federal courts defending the laws. That includes $245,000 in attorney’s fees paid through a settlement in April with the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which had convinced a federal judge to block implementation of a 2013 law banning abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected. The U.S. Supreme Court in January refused to review the state’s case, and the law remains blocked.