Ending an unwanted pregnancy can be a difficult decision, but for some women having an abortion is the right choice. Now, new statistics show that the number of women having abortions (in England and Wales) is currently at its highest since records began. The data, released by the Department of Health and Social Care, shows that 210,860 abortions were reported in England and Wales in 2020, in comparison to 209,519 over the same period in 2019 (of which 207,384 were to residents of England and Wales).
Adding to this, the new figures show that 88% of abortions were carried out when the pregnancy was under ten weeks (an increase of 6% from 2019) and that the abortion rate for women under the age of 18 has decreased. The largest increases in abortion rates by age is amongst women aged 30 to 34.
The data also looked at the use of telemedicine (a 'pills by post' abortion option, first introduced during lockdown), which accounted for 47% of all abortions during the period April to December 2020. Medical abortion (as opposed to the surgical option) has seen an increase overall too; pills were used for 88% of abortions during April to December of 2020, an 11% jump compared to January to March of the same year.
Although abortion was decriminalised in Northern Ireland in 2019, there were 371 abortions for women from Northern Ireland in 2020 - 643 less than in 2019.
Speaking about the new statistics, Dr Jonathan Lord, UK Medical Director for MSI Reproductive Choices (who provide safe abortion services and contraception), said, "These numbers come as no surprise. Access to contraceptive services, already challenging because of a sustained lack of investment, has become even more restricted during the pandemic, leaving many people facing unacceptable waits."
He added that this is even more stark for the most effective long-acting methods, such as the implant and coil. "At the same time, the anxiety and uncertainty caused by the pandemic has undoubtedly had an impact," Dr Lord notes. "The message we have heard loud and clear at our contraceptive clinics is that cut off from their support networks and anxious about how the crisis will affect them, the last thing many people want is to get pregnant."
Dr Lord also praised the "positive changes brought about by the introduction of telemedicine", saying that it is far kinder for patients to have the option of having a medical abortion from the comfort and privacy of their own homes. Currently, the government are deciding on whether or not to make it a permanent option post-pandemic.
"Definitive studies have shown that telemedicine has improved access to abortion care and is safe, effective and preferred by patients, with waiting times and the distress caused by an unwanted pregnancy considerably reduced," adds Dr Lord.
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