Record number of women in England and Wales had abortions in 2020

Increase put down to women being able to seek treatment at home and financial uncertainty

A record number of women in England and Wales had an abortion last year, with the rise particularly among women aged 30 and over.

A total of 209,917 abortions were reported in 2020, with the numbers rising year on year and up from 207,384 in 2019. The largest increases in abortion rates by age were among women aged 30 to 34 with a rise from 16.5 per 1,000 in 2010 to 21.9 in 2020.

Experts put the numbers down to women being able to seek abortion treatment at home during the pandemic and also financial uncertainty meaning women have had to make “tough decisions”.

Clare Murphy, the chief executive at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said: “The increase in numbers is accounted for by an increase in the numbers of women over 30 needing abortion care, and may also reflect the fact that as a result of early abortion at home becoming lawful, women no longer need to seek help outside regulated providers.”

She added: “But the pandemic has clearly impacted upon women’s pregnancy choices and this is reflected in the figures. Faced with economic uncertainty, job insecurity, and needing to juggle home schooling and work, women and their partners have been making sometimes tough decisions when faced with an unplanned pregnancy.

“It’s no surprise to see the proportion of women who already have children seeking abortion increase against this backdrop as well as the increase in abortion among older women, which may also illustrate issues accessing contraception over this period.”

In March 2020, the UK and Welsh governments approved the home use of mifepristone, the first medicine used in early medical abortion. This meant early medical abortion care could be given remotely for those eligible, through a virtual consultation.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said the latest data showed that this new pathway has become “the standard, with 46% of all procedures in England being provided via telemedicine, and 62% of all procedures in Wales”.

In April 2020, the RCOG urged the government and devolved nations to introduce the necessary regulatory changes to allow both early medical abortion medicines to be taken at home. They said this had helped to reduce transmission of the coronavirus, led to a decrease in the average duration of pregnancies at the time of treatment and reduced waiting times.

Dr Edward Morris, the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: “Throughout the pandemic, early medical abortion has been redesigned to adopt a new model of care delivered virtually. This helped to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus, kept women and their families safe, and supported the delivery of essential healthcare.

“The data published today shows not only has this helped with our efforts to deal with the pandemic but has delivered significant benefits for women by increasing access and reducing waiting times, allowing women to receive care earlier in their pregnancy.”

Abortion rates for those aged under 18 have declined over the past 10 years, from 16.5 per 1,000 women in 2010 to 6.9 per 1,000 in 2020. The decline since 2010 is particularly marked in the under-16 age group, where the rates have decreased from 3.9 per 1,000 women in 2010 to 1.2 per 1,000 women in 2020.


Sarah Marsh

The GuardianTramp

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