Pro-choice advocates call for improved access to contraception
Annual abortion statistics for England and Wales published by the Department of Health today show that the abortion rate has remained stable for the third year in a row, at 17.5%. The number of abortions for UK residents in 2011 was 189,981, a rise of 0.2%.
While the abortion rate among women under 16 and under 18 has fallen, numbers have risen among the over 25s over the past decade. Analysis published by abortion provider BPAS suggests a range of factors for the increase including misinformation about infertility leading older women to believe they cannot get pregnant, contraception services geared towards younger women and a dramatic decline in male and female sterilisation.
The figures revealed welcome news about timely access to NHS abortion services. 96% of all abortions carried out in England and Wales were funded by the NHS – a figure of key importance in reducing the financial burden of unwanted pregnancy among lower income women. The proportion of terminations carried out at under 13 weeks remained stable at 91%, while the proportion at under 10 weeks rose to 78%, a 1% increase on 2010. The earlier in pregnancy an abortion is carried out the safer and more straightforward it is.
However, the number of women who have had more than one abortion increased slightly in 2011, to 36%. This compares with a rate of 35% in France, 40% in Sweden and 50% in the United States.
Responding to the publication, Diane Abbott MP, Shadow Public Health Minister commented:
"These figures show just how dramatically the government has veered off course with its pursuit of trying to let anti-choice organisations take part in abortion counselling.
There is work to be done to protect and educate young people, especially those that are vulnerable, and to provide the right kind of empowerment and contraception access in order to reduce repeat abortions. Although Britain’s repeat abortion rate is comparable to - or lower than - other Western countries, we need to provide the right access to support and contraception to reduce our rate of repeat abortions.
‘And yet, the discussion has really become sidetracked by the Department of Health’s political pursuit of changing the current abortion counselling system in order let anti-choice groups be a part of it, as well as the misinformation that has been put out by the right-wing of the Tory party.
Ann Furedi, BPAS Chief Executive said:
“Abortion is a fact of life, because contraception fails and sometimes we fail to use it properly. It is a service that one third of women will need in the course of their reproductive lifetimes so they can plan the timing and size of their families, and play a full role in society. There is no “right” number of abortions above and beyond ensuring that every woman who needs to end an unwanted pregnancy can do so, and that obstacles are not put in the way of her accessing supportive services as quickly as possible.
Speaking to Huffington Post, Abortion Rights commented:
"It's important to note that the abortion rate has remained stable for the third year in a row and has actually fallen slightly for under 16s and under 18s. This reflects the successful focus on reducing teen pregnancy – now at its lowest rate since 1969."
"The government must now look at improving access to contraception for all age groups, including women in their 30s and 40s. This is the only sure way to reduce the number of repeat abortions taking place. Now is not the time to be cutting back on contraception and sexual health services."
Read the full Department of Health document