Abortions up by record 17 per cent amid rise in ‘pills by post’

Abortion pills
Abortion pills

Abortions have risen by a record 17 per cent in one year, following the introduction of the ‘pills by post’ system.

In total, there were 251,377 abortions in England and Wales in 2022, up from 214,869 in 2021. The 17 per cent jump in one year is the biggest since 1971.

Abortion providers said they expected increases to continue, with unprecedented demand for terminations since changes to make it easier for women to have home abortions.

The vast majority of cases in 2022 involved the ‘pills by post’ system, which was introduced as a temporary measure in the pandemic, and then retained, following a Commons vote.

In total, 61 per cent of terminations in 2022 involved taking both medications at home, without having to see a doctor in person, up from 52 per cent in 2021.

Abortion providers said the rise in terminations was “in large part” down to women being given the option to have abortions in their own homes.

Anti-abortion campaigners called for a return to previous systems which insisted that women see a doctor face-to-face before securing an abortion.

The statistics for 2022 show that 102,689 of the cases involved women who were not having their first abortion, with a 12 per cent rise in “repeat” abortions in one year.

Financial factors mainly or partly behind 57 per cent of terminations

Sarah Salkeld, UK associate clinical director, at abortion provider MSI Reproductive Choices, said: “The figures announced today show abortion continues to rise at a record rate. Despite greater demand, we have worked hard to ensure that more women are able to access care early in their pregnancy.

“This is in large part due to the option of having their abortion in the privacy and comfort of their own home through the telemedicine service.”

She said the abortion provider was continuing to see rises in demand, with 27 per cent more cases seen last year, and a 22 per cent increase in the first quarter of this year.

Ms Salkeld said the cost of living crisis and lack of access to contraception was playing a part in decisions to terminate pregnancies.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said its survey of 1,300 women found that financial factors have either mainly or partly impacted the decision to end a pregnancy for 57 per cent.

Heidi Stewart, chief executive of BPAS, said: “No woman should have to end a pregnancy she would otherwise have continued purely for financial reasons. The stories women have shared with us are heartbreaking. The cost of living crisis has placed immense strain on women and families, with too many having to choose between financial stability and having a baby.”

In recent weeks MPs have attempted to place a number of amendments on abortion to the Criminal Justice Bill. They included a ban on pills by post without a face-to-face consultation first, as well as attempts to reduce the abortion time limit from 24 to 22 weeks. Other amendments sought to decriminalise abortion.

They have not, however, been heard in the Commons and are not expected to be, now that a general election has been called.

‘Clear solution is return to in-person appointments’

Polling of more than 2,000 adults by Whitestone Insight last month found that 71 per cent of women support a return to in-person appointments.

Catherine Robinson, for anti-abortion charity Right To Life UK described the figures as “a national tragedy”.

“Every one of these abortions represents a failure of our society to protect the lives of babies in the womb and a failure to offer full support to women with unplanned pregnancies,” she said.

“This significant rise in abortions has accompanied the second full year that abortion services outside of a clinical setting have been operating in England and Wales.

“Only two years ago, the vote to make at-home abortions permanently available passed by just 27 votes. A large number of MPs had serious concerns about the negative impact these schemes would have on women”.

Ms Robinson added: “The clear solution here is the urgent reinstatement of in-person appointments. This would prevent women’s lives from being put at risk from self-administered late-term abortions”.

The figures show rates of terminations has risen in all age groups above the age of 19 over the past decade, with the largest rise seen in those aged 25 to 29.

Over the past 10 years, the proportion of abortions performed at under 10 weeks has increased from 77 per cent in 2012 to 88 per cent in 2022.