Thursday, 11 July 2013

2012 Abortion Statistics

The latest statistics on abortions carried out in England and Wales were released today. The main findings are summarised below but you can view full information (including data tables) here. This year, the Department of Health also carried out a consultation on changes to the publication of abortion statistics, the results of which can be found here.

•    The 2012 abortion rate for all ages is 16.5 per 1,000 women – the lowest rate since 1997 and 6% lower than in 2011. The abortion rate was highest for women aged 21 (31 per 1000 women).

•    The under 16 and under 18 abortion rates were slightly lower than in 2011 (3 per 1000 and 12.8 per 1000 respectively).

•    The number of abortions taking place under 13 weeks gestation remains at 91%, and 97% of abortions were funded by the NHS. The percentage of medical abortions also remains consistent, at 48% (47% in 2011).

•    In 2012, 52% of women undergoing abortions had one or more previous pregnancies that resulted in a live or stillbirth.

A significant difference from 2011’s data is the number of non-resident women accessing abortion in England and Wales:

•    In 2012, there were 5,850 abortions for non-residents versus 6151 in 2011. The 2012 total is the lowest in any year since 1969.

The majority of non-residents accessing abortion in England and Wales are from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (making up 83.6% of the total number of non-residents in 2012). It’s unclear as to why this figure is lower than it has ever been but it’s possible that more women in Ireland are accessing medical abortion online; rising awareness of services like Women on Web through public campaigns may mean that more Irish women are using illegal methods to end their pregnancies rather than face the cost and difficulty of travelling abroad to do so.

Another interesting statistic which deserves to be unpicked is the over-representation of certain ethnic groups in the abortion statistics, particularly with regards to those women who have more than one abortion.

As you can see from the table, women who are of Black or Mixed ethnicity are more likely to have had one or more previous abortions than women of other ethnic backgrounds. The statistics do not tell us why this is, but we might question if the information provided to particular communities on contraception and abortion is relevant and accessible. We know that there are links between ethnicity and deprivation, and between deprivation and unintended pregnancy so this too might be a factor. More research is clearly needed  into the intersections between ethnicity, unintended pregnancy and abortion, but in the meantime, it is crucial to note that women from all backgrounds can and do experience unintended pregnancy and abortion and we should not shy away from providing culturally appropriate, evidence-based information in every setting.

As a result of the consultation on the publication of abortion statistics a few changes have been made, the most significant of which being local level statistics being presented by CCG (clinical commissioning groups) rather than PCT (primary care trust) data due to the changes to the health system.

One interesting aspect of the consultation was to see the number of anti-abortion groups which had responded, a number of whom requested information on fetal sex to be represented in the abortion data. This is presumably a response to recent scaremongering suggesting that 'sex selective abortions’ were taking place in the UK (despite the Department of Health’s own 2013 report finding that the UK’s ‘gender ratio’ is "well within the normal boundaries for populations").

The response to the consultation gives a firm response to this request:
"Information about the sex of the foetus and NHS number are not currently collected on  the HSA4 form. To collect such information would require changes to the  legislation, in  particular the Abortion Regulations 1991, as well as to clinical practice. This is not in the scope of this consultation. The majority of abortions take place before 10 weeks gestation and it is not currently possible to identify a foetus’s gender at that stage. Identifying the gender of aborted foetuses over 10 weeks’ gestation raises ethical and clinical issues. The Government has no plans to introduce such a practice."

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