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BPAS comment on Abortion Statistics 2020

Government statistics demonstrate that telemedical abortion care has enabled women to end pregnancies at earliest gestations

  • Data released today from the Department of Health shows that the introduction of telemedical abortion services has enabled women to undergo abortion at the earliest gestations since records began.
  • 88% of abortions in 2020 were performed at under 10 weeks gestation, in comparison to 82% in 2019 and 77% in 2010. This includes 26% of abortions being performed before 6 weeks’ gestation in 2020, compared to only 15% in 2019.
  • The data also reflects the impact of the pandemic upon women’s pregnancy choices with increased rates among older women, women who are already mothers, and women living in the most deprived areas.
  • BPAS has said that Britain’s telemedical abortion care is now “the standard of high quality, woman-centred care in countries around the world” and that the data released today supports the continuation of this service. 

Abortion statistics released today by the Department of Health & Social Care show that the introduction of telemedical abortion care has enabled women to access abortion care at the earliest gestations since records began, with 88% under 10 weeks and 26% of those performed at under 6 weeks. While many healthcare services have experienced suspension or increased waiting times during the pandemic, the introduction of telemedical abortion care significantly reduced waiting times – meaning women have been able to access the help they need sooner than ever in their pregnancies.

The data shows that while there was a small increase in the overall number of abortions in 2020 in comparison to 2019, this can be entirely attributed to increases among women over the age of 30. The proportion of women having an abortion who were already mothers has also increased. In 2020, 58% were mothers, compared to 55% in 2019 and 50% ten years ago (in 2010).

Other key figures include:

  • There were fewer abortions for women under 30 in 2020 than in 2019 – the small increase in the overall number of abortions is entirely attributable to women over the age of 30 (83,987 in 2020 compared to 78,074 in 2019). The abortion rate for women aged over 35 increased from 9.7 to 10.6 per 1,000 between 2019 and 2020.
  • Women in the most deprived areas were more than twice as likely to have an abortion than those in the least deprived, with rates of 26.8 abortions per 1,000 women and 12.1 per 1,000 women respectively.

In March 2020, the Secretary of State for Health approved temporary measures in England to enable women who are clinically suitable and under 10 weeks of pregnancy to take both medications for an Early Medical Abortion at home during the pandemic. A government consultation on retaining the permission beyond the pandemic closed in February 2021, and a decision has yet to be published.  

BPAS research has found that telemedicine was the preferred method of treatment for 80% of those undergoing an early medical abortion in 2020, with 97% reporting they were satisfied or very satisfied with their treatment. Since its introduction in April 2020, almost 80,000 BPAS clients across Britain have had safe early medical abortions following telemedical consultations. Abortion is a very safe procedure and considerably safer than carrying a pregnancy to term, but the earlier it can be performed the better for women’s physical and mental health.

Clare Murphy, Chief Executive at BPAS 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. 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.

“Providing women with access to telemedical abortion care has protected women’s health during the pandemic, enabling them to obtain safe, effective services during a public health crisis. But more than that - it’s actually improved the care we can offer women by enabling them to access treatment at the earliest gestations. Abortion is an extremely safe procedure but the earlier it can be offered for a woman who is sure of her decision, the better for her physical and mental health.

“At BPAS, we didn’t need a pandemic to know that the ability to access early abortion at home would be transformative for women - particularly those in the most challenging circumstances. Forcing women to attend clinics when it isn’t clinically required impacts those who live considerable distances away and rely on public transport, women with childcare commitments or precarious employment, as well as those in abusive relationships whose movements are closely watched. Women in these circumstances were previously left with little choice but to access pills illegally online - with legal, supportive services now available we know requests to online providers have dried up.

The Government is currently considering whether to retain this service or re-criminalise early abortion at home. The Health Secretary has frequently lauded the benefits of telemedicine and given the huge improvements we have seen as a result of being able to provide abortion in this way, it would be a travesty if this was taken away from women who need it.”

ENDS

The full statistics are online here.

For more information, please email press@bpas.org or call 07788 725 185

About BPAS

BPAS is a charity which sees over 100,000 women a year for reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception at clinics across Great Britain. It supports and advocates for reproductive choice. BPAS also runs the Centre for Reproductive Research and Communication, which seeks to develop and deliver a research agenda that furthers women’s access to evidence-based reproductive healthcare, driven by an understanding of women’s perspectives and needs. You can find out more here: https://www.bpas.org/get-involved/centre-for-reproductive-research-communication/

BPAS will be launching a not-for-profit fertility service in 2021 to provide ethical, evidence-based, person-centred care that supports patients. We intend to only charge what it costs to provide a safe, high-quality, and accessible service to patients who may be unable to access NHS-funded care.