The latest abortion statistics for England and Wales have been released by the Department of Health and show a stable level of the number of abortions. 189,574 abortions were carried out in 2010, a slight increase of 0.3% on the previous year’s figures.
Responding to the data, Ann Furedi, chief executive of bpas highlighted how important equal access to abortion is to women’s lives. ‘It is notable that numbers have remained stable despite increasing investment in and promotion of longer-term methods of contraception. This shows how difficult it is for women to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Abortion is not a problem in itself. For many women abortion is a back-up to their contraception. It is a rational and ethical solution to the problem of a pregnancy that they cannot continue with.’
Despite a slight upward trend amongst all women, abortion figures for under 16s and under 18s have both dropped. The figure for under 16’s has fallen back down to the level they were at a decade ago in the year 2000, to 3.9 per 1,000. For those under 18 the figure has dropped lower than it was in 2000. These figures suggest a greater and more appropriate use of contraception amongst teenagers.
Also of great significance is that the proportion of abortions carried out at under ten weeks has continued to rise: in 2010 some 76% of NHS-funded abortions took place at under 10 weeks’ gestation, compared to 74% in 2009. This is because of a number of advances in sexual health including over-the-counter access to highly sensitive tests that can detect pregnancies earlier. Also women can now self-refer directly into services. The greatest advance has been the increased availability of Early Medical Abortion, which allows abortion to be carried out in the earliest weeks of pregnancy when surgical methods may not be an option.
The abortion statistics show huge variations amongst abortion rates in England and Wales with deprivation remaining an influence. Scottish figures also show this link: in Edinburgh, for example someone from the poorest part of the Capital is twice as likely to request the procedure as his or her counterpart from the wealthiest area.
However, the figures from Scotland also highlight the great influence that sexual health campaigns have had on the number of abortions. Terminations hit their lowest level for almost 20 years across the Lothians last year and repeated sexual health campaigns have been credited with this huge drop in numbers.
Read the full Department of Health data here