UK 2013 abortion statistics: few reasons to be cheerful


It’s that time of year again  – the UK abortion stats have been released for 2013, which will be carefully crafted into a positive press release by agencies with a commercial interest and so we can expect to see cheerful headlines about the increase in early abortion and the declining abortion rate in women aged 15-44.

The real story is rather more complicated. The rate of women aged 15-44 having an abortion has declined to 15.9 per 1,000 and is indeed at its lowest for 16 years. But the overall total of abortions performed in the UK in 2013 has slightly increased from last years figure and is 2.3% higher than 10 years ago. The amount of women choosing to have an abortion might be in decline, but all is not lost for the private clinics – those who do have an abortion are likely to be repeat customers. In any event we shouldn’t forget that despite being at its lowest level for some time, in 2013 the rate of women having an abortion was double that of 1970.

The pro-choice, pro lots of lovely sex ed and contraception lobby find themselves in something of a bind. There is the very welcome news that abortion rate for the under-16s and the under 18s shows a steady decline, in common with teen pregnancies. “See, hooray look, lots of education and access to contraception in schools is the answer” they will cry, with collective pats on the back, affirming blogposts and accompanying PR about ‘evidence-based’ choice. Indeed the rate of abortions performed on those under the age of 22 is declining. Fewer young people going through the agony of abortion is something that folk on all sides of the debate will applaud.

But here’s the rub: the numbers of those aged 22 and above having an abortion remains static from 2012. Which means that either people are suddenly forgetting what teacher told them about the banana and the condom and the handy over-the-counter pill back in 4B, or that they are taking more risks, or as is most likely to be the case, that this is the age where regular sexual activity is the norm. A 22 year old is far more likely to be cohabiting or having sex on a more frequent basis than a 16 year old whose sex life will probably consist of sporadic chaotic fumbles. By the time you’ve got to 22, most young women will have imbibed the mantras of Cosmpolitan and the like and be aiming for some sort of quality and consistency in their intimate life.

And why shouldn’t they, will be the riposte of the feminists. What’s the point of equality if you can’t have multiple orgasms and demand that a partner gives you 100% satisfaction, and obey your whims 100% of the time, just for the privilege of being with you?!

I digress, but what this cultural demand and expectation that women really ought to be demanding marvellous sex lives means (and I’m all for the latter, trust me, I just don’t believe that the vision women are being sold leads to anything other than narcissist, paranoid and ultimately frustrating intimate encounters) is that it makes women entirely reliant on contraception. If you know that pregnancy would spell a disaster then it’s the ‘responsible’ thing to use contraception because you know, swinging from the chandeliers and achieving orgasms in double figures is your birthright as a woman. If you’re not having lots of juicy sex ,then let’s face it you’re probably a freak, there’s something wrong with you and nobody would want to be with you anyway!

So all these emancipated young women are totally dependent on their contraception, which is a bit of a problem considering that no method is 100% effective! Which is where the kindly ‘abortions for only £700 a time charged directly to your local NHS trust’, BPAS come in, with their reassuring campaigns that you are not alone, 1 in 3 women will need an abortion in their lifetime and that around 66% of their clients have managed to conceive while using contraception. Still, once you’ve had an abortion the clinics will kindly advise you on future contraception to guarantee repeat custom, under the guise of altruism, selling the expectation that you won’t once again end up in that 66% bracket.

If you think I’m being just an itsy bitsy bit cynical, then it’s worth remembering that the 2013 abortion figures demonstrate that the number of abortions performed in private clinics which are paid for by the NHS are at an all-time high of 64%, up on 62% of the previous year.

The repeat abortion figures are in fact, astonishingly high, 44% of all women aged 25-29  ending their pregnancies in 2013 underwent a repeat abortion, a figure which rose to 47% in the 30-34 age bracket and then dipped to 45% in the over 35’s. It seems that once you have had one abortion, you are more than likely to have another.

With repeat abortions at 37% amongst all women in 2013, compared to 32% in 2012, it’s no wonder that the clinics describe it as a ‘need’. Almost 50,000 women who had an abortion last year, had already had one. Black or Black British women and those of mixed race were more likely to have had an abortion than white women and other groups. Interestingly Asian and Chinese women have the lowest preponderance of repeat abortions, despite the fact that Asian women are likely to be more affected by the issue of gendercide – perhaps this is indicative the rise of the professional Asian class in the UK.

At a time Catholics are being blamed for their attitudes towards sex and stigmatising of single mothers in twentieth century Ireland, not much has changed. Around 81% of abortions were performed in 2013 upon single women, a number which has risen slowly from 76%, ten years ago in 2003.

Another statistic to be vaunted will be the number of abortions carried out under 13 weeks,  comprising 91% of the total, same as last year, but that abortions under 10 weeks had risen to 79% compared with 77% in 2012 and 59% in 2003.

The subtext here is that the earlier an abortion the better, both for mother and child alike (although a dead baby is a dead baby at whatever stage it’s at) but the complication rates seem to have risen in that 11% of women having an abortion under 10 weeks needed a stay of at least 1 night in hospital. The rate of complications obviously rises the further progressed you are in pregnancy, 25% of abortions of 13-19 weeks required a hospital stay, rising to 57% of those more than 20 weeks or more. We shouldn’t forget that complications experienced once you have left the clinic premises are not recorded.

The rise in early abortions, and medical abortions indicate that women are making their decision earlier than ever before. This once again raises the contentious issue of counselling – if 64% of all abortions are being carried out in private clinics on behalf of the NHS, then it’s imperative that women are not rushed into making a decision due to the time limits of one particular method.

The high number of abortions being carried out by private providers using NHS funds highlights the need for accountability to the public by abortion clinics along with the organisations which they fund to go into schools. This week we’ve seen that well over half of the abortions carried out on the grounds that the baby had Downs Syndrome were not properly recorded, with most information being lost. Add in the fact that doctors caught pre-signing abortion forms without seeing a patient were neither prosecuted nor did they have to face a fitness to practice hearing, despite being in breach of the law, then one has to wonder at the wisdom of yet further liberalising the practice of abortion law.

The clinics have not yet shown that they can be trusted. It will be interesting to see if there is any variation in these figures now the government have clarified that the practice of gender selective abortion is illegal.

One final stat here. So often we hear that late stage abortions are a necessary option for those who discover that their baby has a terrible anomaly.

Leaving aside the arguments about whether or not we ought to impose our vision of what constitutes quality of life to justify depriving another of life, ‘feticide’ was the word which jumped out at me while looking at the table which outlined the methods used to abort the baby, admitting that direct action to end the life of the baby was performed prior to their forced evacuation from the womb.

Of those who aborted their babies between the ages of 20-24 weeks, 904 were on the grounds of fetal anomaly, which means 1,659 babies were aborted at a time when the mother was over-half way through her pregnancy, the baby was fully formed, waving, kicking, smiling and the mother would have felt the movements, simply because they were no longer wanted.

To put that figure in some kind of context, that’s more than the 1,491 live births to women aged 38-39 from 7,500 cycles of IVF. Or how about comparing the 8,500 abortions performed in 2013 on women in the over-40 age bracket with the 6,355 cycles of IVF resulting in 822 births in women in the age 40-42 cohort. What kind of a pickle have we got ourselves into?

When is society going to wake up to the screwy schizophrenia surrounding female fertility instead of patting ourselves on how well we are doing at educating people into a pattern of repeat abortions.

It’s not about regulating others’ sex lives or controlling their bodies but recognising that not only does this take the life of an unborn child but it also causes irreparable pain and suffering to so many women. I don’t which is more depressing. That nothing has changed, the lives lost to abortion in 2013 or that this time next year I’ll be saying exactly the same thing.


10 thoughts on “UK 2013 abortion statistics: few reasons to be cheerful

  1. Caroline, I’m on your side in wishing for the elimination of abortion. But I see you’ve completely omitted here the part of the report that demonstrates that (in your words) “the proportion of Asian, Black and Mixed race women having a repeat abortion much higher than white women”.

    Herein lies the crux of the problem. Again, which demographic is *MOST* likely to use contraception and to have access to a decent education? Is it Asian, black and mixed race women? Or is it in fact, white women?

    The abortion question as a whole is inextricably linked to economic issues of inequality and an absolutely appalling education system that fails young women on virtually every level. I am not advocating that sex education is the correct answer. But education and opportunities *as a whole* might be.

    1. Annie – according to the stats actually Black and Black British women and those of mixed heritage are the highest group with repeat abortions.

      49% of Black/Black British women had already had an abortion

      45% of those of mixed heritage were having a repeat abortion

      White women came in third: 36% of whom were having a repeat abortion

      Asian women fell below white women in terms of repeat abortion – 33% having a repeat abortion

      The lowest group was Chinese/other

      So in terms of repeat abortions it seems to be black, Afro/Caribbean women who are proportionately the most affected by abortion and repeat abortion, followed by white women with Asian/Chinese/other having the lowest rates.

      One could either argue that these cultures have stronger family units (although perhaps Asian women may be more likely to be susceptible to the pressure of gender selective abortion) or most likely that it demonstrates the rise of the Asian professional class in the UK, with the white working class, being in the poorest strata. Of course all of this would play into the hands of xenophobes, but I agree with you in terms of education and opportunities being an important factor.

      1. Thanks for the clarification. Very interesting. It would be truly fascinating to unpack the factors that come into play at both ends of the spectrum, i.e. why the Chinese/Other group has the lowest rate of repeat abortions and the black, Afro/Caribbean have the highest.

        Is it a fact that the repeat abortions among white women are among the working class in the UK? (I have no idea…I’m genuinely asking.)

      2. You’d think that Asian groups would be higher, especially when one considers the practice of gendercide, but it may be that Asian families have a much stronger family ethic and community cohesion and support than the white population as a whole, who seem to be far more disparate.

        Even abortion rights advocates agree that repeat abortions are problematic.

        Studies of women having repeat abortions show that they are more likely to live in less stable social situations, have nearly twice as many psychological problems, and have twice as much reliance on social support services.They are also more likely to go through a divorce, to be involved in substance abuse, and to rely on public welfare.

      3. By way of comparison (just since I’m thinking about it 🙂 ), here are some interesting recent stats from the U.S.:

        In relation to ethnicity and abortion rates:

        “Non-Hispanic black and Hispanic women have higher rates of abortion (40 and 29 per 1,000 women aged 15–44, respectively) than non-Hispanic white women do (12 per 1,000).[32] The higher rates reflect the fact that black and Hispanic women have high unintended pregnancy rates (91 and 82 per 1,000 women, respectively), compared with non-Hispanic white women (36 per 1,000 women).”

        In relation to poverty and abortion rates:

        Women with family incomes below the federal poverty level ($18,530 for a family of three) account for more than 40% of all abortions.[32] They also have one of the country’s highest abortion rates (52 per 1,000 women). In contrast, higher-income women (with family incomes at or above 200% of the poverty line) have a rate of nine abortions per 1,000, which is about half the national rate.

        I’m not making a new point here, but simply reiterating my sense that poverty, inequality and restricted opportunities are a major part of the larger discussion surrounding abortion.

        Info taken from:


  2. Also, given the fact that abortion rates are rising among minority groups, it is important to note that there are cultural elements that have direct impact, such as the fact that certain groups of Asian women are far more likely to abort a girl child. This has nothing to do with contraception or sexual liberation; it’s clearly a cultural issue, albeit one that is rather heinous.

  3. Well written Caroline.

    I understand from previous experience and from nurse friends that when you ‘present as a pregnant patient’ at your doctor you are asked if you wish to continue with the pregnancy or have a TOP, recent press reported on the presigned forms. So basically are expected to justify your ‘condition’.

    The book The Tina Project by Adam Grace is fiction, worth reading.

    1. Thanks Sally and yes that’s exactly right.

      When I was pregnant last year (with the baby I lost) I rang the surgery and asked for a booking-in appointment with the midwife.

      No, I was told, you have to see a GP first. With 4 children including 3 little ones, I obviously don’t want to waste time on unnecessary appointments as the logistics of getting to the Dr are tricky.

      Anyway the receptionist was having none of it. I could not be booked in with the midwife without first discussing it with the GP,

      The whole system is geared towards abortion.

      1. I found the GP appointment pretty useless. It just delays the first appointments and scan at the hospital. It was awkward as well. The (really nice) doctor didn’t quite know how to ask if I wanted to keep the baby in case she said the wrong thing – no woman who wants her baby likes the suggestion that she might want to get rid of it and no woman who wants an abortion likes the assumption that she wants to have the baby – bit of a no win situation for her!

      2. Yes, it’s quite a shock to realise that the state is actively trying to discourage you from giving birth. Also it would seem to me to be encouraging you to get yourself to the 13 week scan so any potential issues can be swiftly dealt with by abortion. When you refuse this scan you are made to feel like you are completely stupid. I know of women who had unnecessary worry throughout their pregnancies as a result and also others who terminated healthy babies on incorrect information and medical advice. It’s a strange situation when the promotional material in the uk is ‘every child matters’.

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