Abortions Increase By 4% In One Year

Abortions in England and Wales jumped by almost 4% last year, according to figures certain to fuel the growing debate about abortion rights in Britain.

There were 193,700 abortions last year compared with 186,400 in 2005, according to the Department of Health. The abortion rate for under-16s and under-18s rose faster than for other age groups, and the rate was highest for women aged 19, at 35 abortions per 1,000. The health minister Caroline Flint acknowledged that the numbers highlighted a need for better access to contraceptive services.

Pro-choice groups called for more investment in contraceptive services to help women avoid unwanted pregnancy, noting that the average spent on each woman’s contraception in England is just £11 a year, and as little as 18p in some areas.

Anne Weyman, chief executive of the sexual health charity fpa, said the rise was not surprising. “Services are being cut and clinics are closing up and down the country … Some primary care trusts have admitted they spend just 18p. This is unbelievable and wouldn’t be tolerated if it happened in another part of healthcare,” she said. Anti-abortion campaigners, meanwhile, called the increase “utterly horrifying”. Julia Millington, of the ProLife Alliance, said: “With only 1% of all abortions performed because of a serious risk to the life or health of the pregnant woman, these statistics are further evidence, if any were needed, that we have abortion on demand in the UK.”

The figures are published as the debate on abortion grows increasingly heated, with anti-abortion groups seeking to restrict current rights such as the 24-week time limit, and pro-choice campaigners going on the offensive to press for a liberalisation of the UK’s 40-year-old abortion law.

Both camps are expected to try to amend the human tissue and embryos bill, expected to be introduced in parliament in the autumn, to win legal change.

Next week, the British Medical Association will vote on a motion to liberalise the abortion law by scrapping the requirement that a woman must gain the signatures of two doctors to access the procedure and by permitting a wider range of medical professionals to carry it out.

The figures show the overall rate is now 18.3 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 resident in England and Wales.

For most women, the procedure is being carried out earlier, with 68% of abortions last year carried out at under 10 weeks’ gestation – a 22% jump since 2002. However, the proportion at 13 weeks and above went up slightly to 11% and there were 2,948 abortions at 20 weeks and over. Ms Flint yesterday welcomed the increase in early-stage abortions. She said: “It is important that women have early access to abortion services as the earlier the abortion, the lower the risk of complications.” The government had spent £8m to improve early access and set a standard of a maximum waiting time of three weeks, she said.

Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said women increasingly expected to be able to plan their families and could not do so through contraception alone. “Becoming a parent is increasingly viewed as a significant social responsibility and although abortion can be a difficult choice, we know that increasingly society is more understanding of the compelling reasons why a woman may need to end a pregnancy.”