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Proportion of abortions among women who are already mothers highest ever

The abortion rate increased marginally to 17.4 per 1,000 women in 2018, from 16.7 in 2017, although remains lower than a decade previous (2008: 17.5). Over this period there have been steep declines in the rate of abortion among younger women, and increases among older women – particularly women over 30. There has also been an increase over the decade in the percentage of abortions overall for women who are already mothers, with 56% of all terminations performed for women who have already had one or more previous births. This is an increase of 17% from 2008.


There has also been a 22% increase from 2017 in the numbers of women travelling for care from Northern Ireland, with 1053 abortions recorded among women with a Northern Irish address in Northern Ireland. These women are now able to access funded care in England and Wales, under a scheme launched by the Government following pressure in 2017. These figures illustrate the significant unmet need for lawful abortion services at home.


Clare Murphy, Director of External Affairs at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said:


“The reasons for the increase in abortions for older women in England and Wales are complex.  Accessible contraceptive services are often focused on the needs of younger women, and women over the age of 25 can in particular find themselves excluded from schemes providing free, pharmacy access to emergency contraception. As so many women in the UK rely on pills and condoms as their main methods of contraception, it is vital that there is swift, access to emergency options when those methods fail or a pill is missed.  


“The increase over time among women who are already mothers is also noteworthy. Women accessing abortion services receive the full range of contraceptive options immediately afterwards, but there is much more we can do to improve access to contraception to women within post-natal services. Unplanned pregnancy in the year after birth is not uncommon, particularly among women who are breastfeeding.  However it is also possible that over the longer term couples are making different decisions about family size and the number of children they can afford and feel able to properly care for.  The two-child benefit cap was designed to influence reproductive decision making and we are certainly aware of cases where that has been a factor in a woman’s decision to end a third, unplanned pregnancy.


“The numbers of women travelling from Northern Ireland illustrate how desperately women need to be able to access lawful services at home. These statistics only give us a tiny part of the picture - they don’t tell us the stories of the women who have to get up in the middle of the night, the logistical nightmare of travel and making arrangements for the care of their existing children, needing to find excuses for work and family. They don’t tell the stories of women who sit on planes bleeding and nauseous. These numbers also cannot tell us about the women who simply cannot travel, and who risk prosecution and punishment by ordering pills online or who are forced to continue a pregnancy they do not want.


“In past weeks there has been much condemnation of the situation in the US, where we are seeing systematic attempts to completely rollback women’s reproductive rights. If we are to make a stand we simply must address the situation that exists within our own borders, and the criminalisation of women and healthcare professionals in the UK today.  Bpas supports the decriminalisation of abortion across the UK: abortion is a key part of women’s reproductive healthcare, essential if women are to be able to make their own decisions about their own bodies, lives and families, and it should be regulated in the same way as all other women’s healthcare procedures.”




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Further information:

For women aged of 25-29, the rate of abortion per 1,000 women was 25.3 in 2018. This is an increase from 23.9 in 2008. Rates for this age group have increased in recent years, from their lowest level in 2012 of 21.8 abortions per 1,000 women.  The rates for women aged 30-34 have increased from 15.6 per 1,000 women in 2008 to 19.9 in 2018, and rates for women aged 35 and over have also increased from 6.7 per 1,000 women in 2008 to 9.2 per 1,000 women in 2018. (Table 3b and Figure 2b).


Full data can be found here: