It's worth reminding ourselves that two days ago when the new Under-18 teenage pregnancy statistics were announced lots of sceptics on Twitter were asking just how the papers might spin this to make it look bad and controversial and scary instead of recognising that actually teenage pregnancy rates are falling. They are the lowest they have been since 1969 which is what everybody seems to want whatever end of the political spectrum they inhabit.
Hooray, then? Teenage pregnancy rates are falling....but, in today’s Metro we were asked to temper our happiness with the sad news that actually teenage abortion rates have risen. So, is this true?
The statistics for under-18s in England and Wales (see table 6) break down the figures in several ways:
- Conception numbers (the actual number of under-18 pregnancies)
- The conception rate ( number of women out of 1,000 under-18 yrs who got pregnant)
- The maternity rate (number of women out of 1,000 under-18 yrs who continued their pregnancy)
- The abortion rate (number of women out of 1,000 under-18 yrs who ended their pregnancy)
- The percentage of pregnancies to women under-18 yrs that ended in abortion (sometimes also known as the abortion proportion)
So what actually has happened to under-18 conception and abortion rates in England and Wales?
- Under 18 Conception numbers decreased from 41,361 (2009) to 38,259 (2010)
- The conception rate, maternity rate AND abortion rate ALL fell between 2009 and 2010 that means that fewer under 18s got pregnant, had babies or had abortions.
- The percentage of conceptions that ended in abortion (the abortion proportion) rose slightly from 48.8 to 49.9.
Clearly the Metro is mixing up its abortion 'rate' with its abortion 'proportion'.
What do the statistics tell us?
These statistics demonstrate a trend towards a decrease in teenage pregnancy overall with the rate of women continuing pregnancy to maternity falling faster than the rate of women choosing to end pregnancy in abortion. This is represented in the statistics by a small year on year increase in the abortion proportion.
For people who generally oppose abortion, an increase in the abortion proportion is obviously a cause for concern especially if it represents the growing acceptability and accessibility of abortion. However, the fact that the actual number of abortions fell should be cause for celebration.
For people who generally support the right to choose abortion an increasing abortion proportion may be seen as something that has some positives if it represents the increasing awareness of abortion as an option, and improved accessibility of services. However, pro-choice people would also celebrate the fall in the number of actual abortions because ideally everyone would prefer someone not to become pregnant in the first place if they don’t want to be, rather than have to make this decision.
What the statistics tell us about the teenage pregnancy strategy which ended in 2010 is that it succeeded in bringing about reductions in the rates, but not in achieving its huge ambition of halving the teenage pregnancy rate. It took an enormous amount of investment to make even modest reductions. With the end of the strategy and cutbacks and reorganisation across health promotion and teenage pregnancy services it remains to be seen whether this downward trend will continue.