Abortion Rights Blog

The national pro-choice campaign

In the media: Repeat abortion figures prompt alarmist headlines

Last month saw a flurry of newspaper articles prompted by the publication of government figures on the number of repeat abortions carried out in the UK last year. The coverage, much of which adopted a judgmental tone, was driven by parliamentary answers from the Department of Health to Anne Milton, Conservative shadow health minister, who had requested information on the number of women receiving repeat abortions in terms of their age and marital status. The government’s response, and Anne Milton’s reaction, were widely reported in the media, with coverage focusing on the 5,000 women under 20 who received a repeat abortion in 2008 – just 2.5% of the total. In its December 6th article on the subject, The Observer quoted Ms Milton as saying, 

“It is of huge concern that such a high number are having repeat abortions…Why is it that we are not able to reduce the number of young girls who not only end up with one unwanted pregnancy, but then just go back and have another?” She continued, “Abortions can be incredibly traumatic for women and terminating an unwanted pregnancy can have a damaging effect on mental health.”

In language which stressed both the marital status and age of the women involved, the Observer went on to note that government figures, “reveal that 5,218 women under 20 in England and a further 15,029 aged between 20 and 24 had a repeat abortion. All those involved were single.” The Daily Mail (7/12/09), highlighting the problem “among girls under 20”, reported that “The latest figures…show that repeat abortions have become common among teenagers”.

While much of the coverage omitted comment from medical or sexual health care professionals, the Observer included a quote from Julie Bentley, chief executive of the Family Planning Association, who said,

“These figures represent a tiny number of women and actually illustrate an extremely complicated issue. Some having repeat abortions may be in an abusive relationship, a personal crisis or may be having other serious problems in their lives. There will be other women having a repeat abortion who aren’t receiving the level of contraceptive advice and services necessary – and that they are entitled to.”

Similarly, Heather Corinna’s piece for the Guardian’s Comment is Free site, which generated lively online debate, provided a pro-choice, evidence-based perspective:

“Women need access to comprehensive, unbiased information about all contraceptive methods, addressing all as viable while making clear the differences in effectiveness and proper use. They need that information at school, at home, in the media and from healthcare providers, including those providing care with pregnancy, whether it ends in abortion, miscarriage or birth. The youngest women use family planning services less than older ones, and are often scared to ask for them. It is vital to offer them these services without finger-wagging.”

Read Heather Corinna in the Guardian.

Coverage in the Observer.

Article in the Daily Mail.