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UK abortions on the rise

June 20th, 2007

Dr Petra

The latest figures on the prevalence of abortions in the UK have just been released and make for depressing reading. Last year there were 193,737 terminations carried out in England and Wales, with the figure rising to over 200,000 abortions when you include women from Ireland to the UK for terminations of pregnancy.

Concerns have been expressed from a number of sources about the rising trend. Those working in sexual health have noted that terminations are increasing at a time when the spend on sexual health is low. Sex educators have argued that a lack of mandatory sex education and easy access to contraception services have contributed to the increase in figures. And religious groups have complained about the moral aspects of allowing abortions full stop.

The increase in the rate of abortions is leading towards wider parliamentary debates which could well begin to restrict access to terminations (or possibly reduce the time limit when a woman can have a termination). Debates should really be looking at why many women are seeking abortions when they should be given adequate contraception and information on how to manage their fertility.

The report shows that many teenagers are having terminations which are putting the abortion figures up. We already know that for many teenagers who get pregnant they do so because they were unable to access sexual health services, missed out on school sex education, and were lower in confidence and assertiveness than their peers. These vulnerable girls are not only likely to get pregnant and seek a termination but are also likely to get pregnant again afterwards. So as well as sorting out termination services we also need to ensure that any woman seeking a termination – whatever her age, is given good sex advice afterwards and helped to use contraceptives effectively so she is protected from getting pregnant again until she so chooses.

Evidence from this report and other research indicates women are often seeking terminations for a variety of reasons, but it isn’t clear why women are still getting pregnant – more research needs to be completed to find the answer to this so we can sort out supporting women of all ages.

Whilst media coverage did manage to address aspects of the report, some of the coverage was sensational or women-blaming, and a lot of it focused on the increase of women having terminations by use of the ‘abortion pill’ which the media seemed to interpret as a bad thing. The abortion pill is designed for use in early terminations of pregnancy and aims to avoid a more surgical intervention which is both costly and can be upsetting for some women. It is not, contrary to media representations today, the easy option. If you have the abortion pill you can still experience pain and bleeding, and it may not be the best option for all women. Unfortunately the media coverage in many areas seemed to present the latest abortion figures as being made up of flighty women who simply take a pill to get rid of a baby, whereas we know women’s experience of termination can be a lot more complex.

If you need advice or help about termination of pregnancy, or if you want to sort out your contraception to ensure you don’t get pregnant you can find out more from
Planned Parenthood
Marie Stopes
Family Planning Association

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