Abortion Statistics and Advice


CARE for Life Pregnancy Counselling Centres
  Abortion Statistics Factsheet
Updated January 2001

When the 1967 Abortion Act was passed many felt it was a necessary, if sad, piece of legislation to deal with a minority of women in desperate situations. The Act has, however, led virtually to abortion on demand by allowing abortions to be performed on certain grounds. Amendments under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 brought in a new upper time limit allowing most abortions to take place only up to 24 weeks, but also allowing certain exceptions with no upper limit set, thus permitting legal abortions up to birth.

In 1968 there was a total of 23,641 abortions performed in England and Wales. By 1978 this had increased to 141,558 and in 1988 to 183,798. A peak of 187,402 abortions was reached in 1998, dropping to 183,250 in 1999. 1 Up to 31 March 1997 nearly 4.7 million abortions had been performed in England and Wales in the thirty years since the 1967 Abortion Act was passed. 2

The total number of abortions in England and Wales for 1999 shows a drop of 4,152 from 1998. The overall rate of legal abortions for women resident in England and Wales in 1999 was 13.6 abortions per 1,000 women aged 14-49, compared to a rate of 13.9 in 1998 and 13.2 in 1997. Between 1968 and 1990 there was a fairly steady rise in abortion rates. Then between 1990 and 1995 this changed to a downward trend in the abortion rate until 1996, when rates began to increase again. This last year has shown a slight fall in numbers of abortions.

Figures for Scotland show a similar steady rise from a total of 1,544 abortions in 1968. In 1999 the number of abortions in Scotland was 12,144, a slight fall from 12,424 in 1998 but similar to the number in 1997 (12,109). The rate of legal abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-45 resident in Scotland in 1999 dropped to 11.1 from a rate of 11.4 in 1998. The rate in 1997 was also 11.1. 3

The Abortion Act does not apply in Northern Ireland so women living here wanting abortions often travel to England and Wales. A total of 1,430 women from Northern Ireland had abortions in England and Wales in 1999, a slight drop from the previous year (1,581).

The majority of abortions in 1999 in England and Wales took place at under 12 weeks gestation (89%) however 2,467 were performed at 20 weeks or more, of which 91 were carried out after 24 weeks gestation. Before 24 weeks gestation there are no specific legal requirements governing the disposal of foetal tissue. If no personal wishes have been expressed foetuses are incinerated. Foetuses terminated after 24 weeks gestation are registered as stillbirths and must be buried or cremated. 4

Single women make up the largest group having abortions; in 1999 they accounted for 121,177 (70%) of abortions on women resident in England and Wales. (Married women: 32,585 total, 19%).

Overall, 22% of all conceptions led to abortion in 1998. However, conceptions outside marriage are more likely to be terminated than conceptions inside marriage - in 1998, 35% of all conceptions outside marriage resulted in abortion in England and Wales, compared with 9% of all conceptions inside marriage. 5 The proportions are also higher for teenagers - 52.5% of those who conceived before they were 16 had an abortion in 1998 in England and Wales. 6 In Scotland 53% of this group had an abortion. 7 For older teenagers live births outnumbered abortions so that altogether 38% of all teenagers who conceived in England and Wales had an abortion. 8 In Scotland, 44% of pregnant teenagers terminated their pregnancy (an increase from 35% in 1989). 9 38% of conceptions led to abortions for women aged 40 and over in 1998 in England and Wales. 10

Just over half (53%) of women who had abortions in 1999 in England and Wales had no other children. 36% had one or two other children already and 11% had 3 or more children.

As the following table shows, the most common age group to have abortions are those aged 20-29 years, accounting for half of all abortions.

1999 Abortions on residents in England and Wales, by age group:

45 and over

Within the 11-15 age band, 2 eleven year old girls had abortions and 8 twelve year old girls. A further 1,055 girls were 13 or 14 years old.

The percentage of abortions for residents in England that were funded by the NHS in 1999 was 74%. This figure was 86% for residents in Wales while in Scotland 98% were funded by the NHS in 1999. 11

In 1999 there were recorded complications arising from 420 abortions - a rate of 2.4 in every 1,000 abortions. Only complications occurring before the abortion was officially notified were recorded (ie only the immediate complications, not any long-term complications). The complications recorded were mainly haemorrhage, sepsis and uterine perforation.

Attitudes towards abortion have changed in the period since 1967 in favour of legal abortion for reasons of preference, so effectively it is now possible for any woman to have a termination if she requests it before 24 weeks gestation, and sometimes after. The reason usually stated for having an abortion is 'risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the woman' which is broadly interpreted by doctors to mean any distress on the part of the patient.

In 1999 this accounted for 92% of all the reasons given for having an abortion. 1% (1,813) were carried out for 'substantial risk of the child being born seriously handicapped'. No abortions were carried out in 1999 'to save the life of the pregnant woman'. Between 1968 and September 1995, 140 abortions (0.003%) in England and Wales were performed to "save the life of the pregnant woman". 12 During this same period in Scotland 17 abortions (0.007%) were performed to save the life of the woman. 13

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from Abortion Statistics 1999, Series AB No 26, Office for National Statistics, England and Wales, 2000 (www.statistics.gov.uk).

Written answer to a Parliamentary question, Hansard, 30 October 1997, col 252.

Abortion Statistics Scotland 1998 and 1999, ISD Scotland Health Briefing, 00/11, July 2000.

Written answer to a Parliamentary question, Hansard, 19 June 2000, col 523.

Population Trends 99, Office for National Statistics, Spring 2000.

Ibid .

Teenage Pregnancy in Scotland 1989-1998, ISD Scotland Health Briefing 99/04, June 2000.

Population Trends 99, Office for National Statistics, Spring 2000.

Teenage Pregnancy in Scotland 1989-1998, ISD Scotland Health Briefing 99/04, June 2000.

Population Trends 99, Office for National Statistics, Spring 2000.

Abortion Statistics Scotland 1998 and 1999, ISD Scotland Health Briefing, 00/011, July 2000.

Written answer to a Parliamentary question, Hansard, 27 June 1996, col 236.

Written answer to a Parliamentary question, Hansard, 22 July 1996, col 103.

  CARE - 2001

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Men & Abortion

If your partner is unexpectedly pregnant, please sit down and read this. It contains information that could be important to the health and future of both of you.

    Talking With Your Partner
Men and women communicate in very different ways. Women place a lot of emphasis on first impressions and in this situation even a neutral reaction may be seen as a lack of support. One woman said she had an abortion because her partner's first reaction was "Okay, I don't mind either way". Another because her partner casually said "If you want" and changed the subject. Both women took this casualness to be a lack of interest and support, but found out later that all their partners needed was time to adjust to the new situation. If you really want to help your partner you should talk openly and frankly, get as much information as possible and don't base your decision on the results of one conversation. Above all ask your partner to give you time to think things through.

You may feel that because of the way society has labelled abortion as a "woman's issue", that your partners decision has nothing to do with you. You may think that your partner should be taking this decision on her own. But is this true?

With many couples the responsibility for an abortion decision also rests with the man because few women will have an abortion against the wishes of a supportive partner. Her response will depend on how you react. What your partner needs to know is what you truly think. Saying "whatever you want" still leaves the weight on her shoulders.

Your partner needs reassurance that you are not planning to abandon her. That you care enough to face with her the consequences of your sexual relationship.

Effects of Abortion
Generally men know very little about abortion. Abortion is not something to be considered lightly - there are physical and mental health risks to abortion. It will be helpful to read through the leaflet "The Facts About Abortion".

Trauma from an abortion can also affect men. Guilt and hurt after an abortion can drive couples apart, especially if one partner was unsure about the decision. Often couples split up following an abortion.

You may want your relationship back to where it used to be, but this is impossible. Sometimes men react with a gut instinct that it is better to do something quickly and worry about the consequences later. A common reaction is "get rid of it". But this is not one of those situations, and an abortion will not put things back as they were. In short, both you and your partner have been permanently changed by the pregnancy.

Some men feel guilty about what they have done and then find it difficult to form close relationships in the future. Some disguise their feelings by remaining emotionally cold and distant. One man said "following the abortion I split up with my girlfriend and it was only years later I realised that I had never settled down and got married because of the abortion".

There is a deep instinct in men to protect women and children. An abortion can undermine a man's confidence in himself and he can come to think of himself as a failure - a failure as a partner, a failure as a father, a failure as a man.

Many men's lives have been harmed by abortion. That is why it is important that you are involved in the decision, allow yourself plenty of time to think things through and talk openly with your partner.

Making Your Decision
If you really want to help your partner be honest with her. This is a tough and confusing situation. But it can also be a chance to change and mature. Are you going to run? Or will you take the first steps of genuine love by staying with her when the going gets tough? In either case, your partner is not the only one who has to make some important choices.

If You Need Help
If you would like to talk confidentially and privately to one of our counsellors, either with your partner or on your own, please give us a call at the number below and arrange an appointment at the centre.

The counsellor will help you work through to a considered decision on how to tackle this crisis. If you prefer we can even arrange for you to discuss the situation with a man. You will be offered complete information including understanding the alternatives to abortion. You will have space and time to think so that your decision is neither hurried nor based on ignorance.

We hope that this will help you to reach the right decision for your life.

If you would like to be put in touch with a counsellor in your area, please telephone 01256 477300

 CARE - 1998