Abortions soar as careers come first
Rising rate among under-14s disappoints health officials
London Times | July 29, 2005
By Alexandra Frean
THE abortion rate hit a record high last year, according to government figures published yesterday that also show a sharp rise in terminations to girls aged under 14.
In 2004 the abortion rate rose by 2.1 per cent to 17.8 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44, the highest recorded, according to the Department of Health. This resulted in 185,415 women resident in England and Wales having an abortion, compared with 181,600 in 2003.
The overall abortion rate among girls aged under 16 fell from 3.9 to 3.7 per 1,000, but the number of girls aged under 14 who had an abortion rose by 6 per cent last year to 157.
The findings provoked mixed reactions yesterday from people working in the family planning field. Some predicted that the rate would continue to rise as women increasingly regarded having a termination as a lifestyle choice.
Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Britain’s leading abortion provider, noted that the rate was highest for those aged 18 to 24, at 31.9 terminations per 1,000 women.
This is part of a growing trend for women in this age bracket opting to end unwanted pregnancies, she said. Most women are at least 29 before they have a child and the increase in abortion rates of women aged 20 to 24 reflects that.
“Women today want to plan their families and, when contraception fails, they are prepared to use abortion to get back in control of their lives,” Ms Furedi said.
“Motherhood is just one among many options open to women and it is not surprising that younger women want to prioritise other things. We should stop seeing abortion as a problem and start seeing it as a legitimate and sensible solution to the problem of unwanted pregnancy.” She added that nowadays women who do want children want fewer of them later in life. Marriage was decreasing in popularity and unmarried couples were more likely than married couples to end an unplanned pregnancy, even if they were living together.
Ms Furedi said that women, particularly those in the professional classes, were increasingly reluctant to take breaks that could hinder their careers.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said that it was disappointed with the overall rise in abortions. She said: “We are working hard to reduce the demand for abortions by improving access to contraception and have committed an extra £40 million to improve access to contraceptive services.” She said that the department would soon start a public information campaign to educate young people on the importance of safer sex as part of the Government’s strategy to decrease teenage pregnancies.
Anne Weyman, chief executive of the Family Planning Association, agreed that the figures highlighted the urgent need to improve NHS contraceptive services.
She also noted that the figures showed encouraging improvements to abortion services, which meant that more abortions (82 per cent in 2004, compared with 80 per cent in 2003) were being funded by the NHS.
This also enabled more women to have early abortions. In 2004, some 56 per cent of NHS abortions were carried out before ten weeks of gestation, up from 52 per cent in 2003.
Commentators were divided, however, about the significance of changes to the under-16 abortion rate, noting that as the numbers involved are so low, small increases or decreases in cases can produce big percentage swings.
The rate of abortions carried out because of the risk that a child would be born with a disability remained at 1 per cent. The figure was 1,900 in 2004, compared with 1,950 in 2003.
The figures also show that 42 women had terminations at 28 weeks or more gestation last year, compared with 49 women the year before. There were 18 cases that involved pregnancies of 32 weeks or more, compared with 22 in 2003.