News figures reveal more than half of abortions now carried out at home

Changes to how women access abortion mean more than half of terminations are now carried out at home, new figures show.

Data from the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities reveals that 52% of all abortions in 2021 involved women taking mifepristone and misoprostol pills in their homes.

In March 2020, at the start of the Covid pandemic, temporary measures were introduced in England and Wales to allow the use of both pills for early medical abortion at home, without the need to first attend a hospital or clinic.

These arrangements were made permanent in March 2022 and have become the most popular option.

The new data for England and Wales shows that medical abortions – where women take pills as opposed to having surgery – accounted for 87% of all abortions in 2021, an increase of two percentage points from 2020 (85%).

Early medical abortions are defined as taking place within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.

The new set of data also shows there were 214,256 abortions for women living in England and Wales in 2021, the highest number on record.

The age standardised abortion rate for residents was 18.6 per 1,000 women – the highest rate recorded – and up from 18.2 per 1,000 women in 2020.

The abortion rate for women under the age of 18 has continued to decrease, while it has remained stable for women aged 35 or over.

The abortion rate in 2021 was highest for women aged 22 (at 31.0 per 1,000 women).

Over the last decade, the largest increases in abortion rates by age are among women aged 30-34, which have increased from 17.2 per 1,000 in 2011 to 22.1 per 1,000 in 2021.

According to the new data, most abortions (98%) were carried out on the grounds of a risk to women’s mental health (before 24 weeks), while 1.6% were carried out under ground E (substantial risk to the child of such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped).

There were 3,370 abortions performed under ground E in 2021. This is a slight increase since 2020, when there were 3,083.

The figures further showed that, in 2021, 43% of women undergoing abortions had had one or more previous abortions, a rise from 36% in 2011.

The percentage of women aged 30 or over who had one or more previous abortions has increased from 46% in 2011 to 51% in 2021.

Meanwhile, in 2021, 57% of women undergoing abortions had had one or more previous pregnancies that resulted in a live or stillbirth, up from 51% in 2011.

The charity and abortion provider British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said Government inaction on fortifying flour with folic acid was leading to hundreds of preventable abortions.

Neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly are related to folic acid deficiency, and are mentioned almost 400 times in the 2021 abortion figures.

Clare Murphy (pictured), chief executive of BPAS, said: “For every year that the Government continue to delay the introduction of folic acid fortification, hundreds of women will face the heartbreak of ending a wanted pregnancy due to a diagnosis of a neural tube defect.”

Regarding the overall rise in abortion, she added: “The pandemic, and the policies adopted by the Government in response, have had a clear impact on women’s pregnancy choices.

“Faced with economic uncertainty and job insecurity, women and their partners have been making sometimes tough decisions around continuing or ending a pregnancy.”

Lynn Murray, spokeswoman for the Don’t Screen Us Out campaign on Down’s syndrome, said the figures also showed a rise in abortions for Down’s, up to 859 in 2021.

“As a mother of a 22-year-old daughter who has Down’s syndrome, I see every day the unique value she brings to our family and the positive impact she has on others around her,” she said.

“It is deeply concerning that despite the leaps that advocacy groups have made in raising awareness in support of people with Down’s syndrome, abortion in the case of Down’s syndrome is still so commonplace and widespread in the UK.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2022, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) British Pregnancy Advisory Service.