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Latest Abortion Statistics: Highlighted Summary

Last week, the Department of Health released the latest abortion statistics for England and Wales (summary here, and detailed tables here), which describe what abortions happened in those parts of the UK in 2014. Here are some highlighted points:

  • 201,567 abortions took place in Great Britain in 2014. 190,092 (94%) were notified as taking place in England and Wales (the remaining 11,475 (6%) occurred in Scotland). Of these, 184,571 were performed on UK residents (sections 2.1 & 2.55), and 5,521 were performed on foreign nationals or non-residents, of whom 68% were from the Irish Republic and 15% from Northern Ireland (section 2.55).
  • The age-standardised abortion rate was 15.9 per 1,000 resident women aged 15-44 (section 2.1). London had the highest abortion rate at 22 per 1,000 women, followed by the North and Midlands at just over 15, and the South of England and Wales at around 14 (section 2.54; Figure 8).
  • 98% (179,967) of abortions took place under ‘Ground C’, according to which it is meant to be judged in good faith by two Doctors that, on pregnancies under 24 weeks gestation, “the continuance of a pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman” (section 1(1)(a), Abortion Act 1967). Of these, 99.93% were reported as being performed because of a purported risk to the woman’s mental health. The Department of Health provides no account of what sorts of ‘mental health grounds’ are cited, nor does it require Doctors making such a judgement (or the ‘Multi-Disciplinary Team’ who may examine the pregnant women for them) to have training in mental health. There is, to date, no evidence that abortion improves or safeguards the mental health of women. On the contrary, the legal abortion supporter Professor David Fergusson of the University of Utago in New Zealand, has written that:

“… there is now growing evidence for two major conclusions about abortion and mental health. First, exposure to abortion is an adverse life event which is associated with a modest increase in risks of mental health problems. Second, the mental health risks associated with abortion may be larger, and certainly are not smaller, than the mental health risks associated with unwanted pregnancies that come to term.”*

  • 2% (3,099) of abortions took place under ‘Ground E’, according to which it is meant to be judged in good faith by two Doctors that “there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped” (section 1(1)(d), Abortion Act 1967). This is a 10% increase from 2013. 662 of these were performed on Down’s syndrome babies (a 12% increase on 2013), Down’s being the most commonly reported (21%) chromosomal abnormality justifying abortion (section 2.19). 10 babies were aborted due to either a cleft lip or palate (Table 9a).
  • 92% of abortions happened at under 13 weeks gestation, with 80% performed at under 10 weeks (sections 2.23 & 2.24). Most of these (62% under 9 weeks) will be medical abortions, in which a pregnant woman takes an abortifacient drug, usually mifegyne (mifepristone, also known as RU-486, the so-called ‘abortion pill’), which causes an early miscarriage. This is opposed to surgical abortions, in which the unborn child is killed and her body removed using sharp or powerful instruments. For the first time, the majority of abortions in England and Wales – 51% – were medical in nature (section 2.40). In Scotland, the proportion of medical abortions is 80% (section 2.57).
  • Over a third of women (37%) who had abortions had experienced one of more abortions previously, a proportion that has risen from 32% in 2004. In Scotland, the proportion is 32% (section 2.57). This was just over a fifth of women who had abortions aged under 25 (27%), and just under a half (46%) of women aged between 25-34 (sections 2.31-2.33; Table B).
  • There were 2,399 abortions to girls aged under 16. 698 of these were to girls under 15 and 100 of these were to girls aged under 14 (section 2.2).
  • 7% (737) of abortions to women aged under 18 were repeat abortions, and 2% (57) of abortions to women under aged 16 (section 2.3).
  • 54% of women undergoing abortions in 2014 had one or more previous pregnancies that resulted in a live or stillbirth, up from 47% in 2004. 18% of women had a previous pregnancy resulting in a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy, up from 14% in 2004 (section 2.36; Tables 3a.vii % 3a.viii).
  • 98% of abortions were funded by the NHS (the remaining 2% being privately funded), with 32% of abortions being performed in NHS hospitals and 67% in approved independent sector places under NHS contract (section 2.11). These are usually clinics owned by abortion providers such as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) or Marie Stopes International (MSI), or private health providers such as Spire. Abortions cost the NHS at least £80,000,000 a year (a conservative estimate).

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* (Fergusson et al, reply to Rowlands and Guthrie on Abortion and mental health, in The British Journal of Psychiatry (2009), 195: 84).