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bpas comment on key points from the 2017 Department of Health abortion statistics

  • The numbers of women travelling to England from Northern Ireland has increased by over a quarter from 2016 to 919, following the availability of funded abortion care for women from Northern Ireland in England from June 29th of last year.
  • While the overwhelming majority of abortions were performed at under 10 weeks gestation (77%), this proportion fell by 4 percentage points in 2017, the first decline in the last five years and the largest drop for the decade reported in this data
  • The abortion rate increased slightly for women in England and Wales, with crude rates for women aged over 30 at the highest in a decade (18.2 for women 30-34 and 8.5 for women over 35), and increases in all other age groups except women under 18 where the rate continues its sharp decline.  This slight increase may reflect issues with access to contraceptive service in a climate where cuts to sexual health services are being made.
  • 55% of women having abortions were already mothers


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

“We are not surprised to see this increase in the number of women travelling from Northern Ireland after funded care became available in the second half of the year. These numbers speak to the unmet need for reproductive healthcare services in Northern Ireland. Being able to travel is no substitute for high quality, compassionate care at home, as the logistical and emotional burden placed on women by being forced to travel to obtain legal care can be overwhelming. These figures also do not tell us about the women left behind, those who simply cannot travel, often because they are the most vulnerable women in the most challenging of circumstances. These women are left with little choice but to order pills online, risking prosecution in the process, or continue with an unwanted pregnancy.

“It is concerning to see a fall in abortions performed before 10 weeks. Abortion is an extremely safe procedure, but the earlier it can be performed the better for women’s physical and mental health. We would like to see abortion decriminalised, removing the need for 2 doctors signatures and enabling it to be regulated in the same way as other healthcare services, improving women’s straightforward access to high quality clinical care. But in the meantime, we call on the Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt to follow his Scottish and Welsh counterparts and enable women to use the second dose of the medication needed for early abortion at home, eliminating the need to return to the clinic for a second appointment. This is a safe, effective measure which is the standard of care internationally, endorsed by the World Health Organisation, and preferred by women, as it reduces the risk of bleeding and miscarriage on the way home and the requirement to attend unnecessary appointments. This an evidence-based measure which would improve women’s experience at what can be a challenging time, and the power to change this lies with Mr Hunt.”


For media enquiries please call 0207 061 3377, 07788 725 185 or email press@bpas.org.

Notes to Editors:

About bpas

bpas is a charity which sees more than 70,000 women a year and provides reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception, at clinics across the UK. It supports and advocates for reproductive choice. More information can be found at bpas.org.