Unplanned pregnancy among older women reflected in increased abortion rate

  • Statistics released today by the Department of Health show that the rate of abortion has increased slightly from 17.4 abortions per 1,000 women in 2018 to 18.0 per 1,000 women in 2019.
  • The increase is largely attributed to increases in the rate of abortion among older women. The largest increase in abortion rate by age was amongst women aged 30-34, which has increased from 15.7 per 1,000 women in 2009 to 20.9 in 2019.
  • In 2019, 55% of women undergoing an abortion were mothers, an increase of six percentage points from 2009 (49%)
  • The charity the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, BPAS, believes economic uncertainty and the shift towards smaller family sizes are significant factors in the increased abortion rate.
  • Contraception services must better meet the needs of older women – particularly access to emergency contraception and after a baby

Figures released today by the Department of Health have shown an increase in the rate of abortion which is largely accounted for by older women, the majority of whom are already mothers.

The largest increase in abortion rate by age were amongst women aged 30-34, which have increased from 15.7 per 1,000 women in 2009 to 20.9 in 2019. The figures also show an increase among women aged over 35, with the rate increasing from 6.6 in 2009 to 9.7 in 2019. Of those women aged 35 and over who had an abortion in 2019, 87% were mothers. Overall, 55% of women who ended a pregnancy in 2019 were already mothers, an increase from 49% in 2009.

The average completed family size for women in England and Wales who reached age 45 years in 2018, the latest year for which data is available) was 1.89 children per woman, the lowest level recorded. Alongside this, the average age of mothers in England and Wales also stands at a record high of 30.6 years old. This shift towards later motherhood and smaller family size mean that women are spending a greater proportion of their fertile years trying to avoid pregnancy, which may also be reflected in the figures.

While the changes in the age of motherhood and family size may in part be caused by positive changes to women’s lives and role in society, it may also reflect financial barriers to starting a family or expanding a family. The charity the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, BPAS, which sees around 100,000 women a year, has said that women seeking abortion advice can express significant concerns about economic uncertainty and their financial ability to have a child, fears which the charity predicts will increase further due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The charity is calling on the government to remove the two-child limit which can cause some women to end a pregnancy they would otherwise wish to continue because of the lack of government support.

BPAS also wishes to see improvements in access to contraception advice and services for older women, particularly after having a baby, when a method which may have suited them well previously is no longer the best method for them.

Clare Murphy, Director of External Affairs at BPAS, said:

“The reasons for this increase will be complex but women and their partners, when faced with an unplanned pregnancy, will make decisions based on the circumstances they find themselves – and financial instability or uncertainty can often play a key role in those choices. The majority of women having an abortion already have at least one child and over the years we have seen a shift towards smaller families, which also goes hand in hand with the later age at which women start their families in the first place. Contraception alone will never prevent the need for abortion, but there is more we can do to ensure better access to high quality services – particularly when women have recently had a baby. These figure of course pre-date the current pandemic, and it’s already clear that the current uncertainty about the future is impacting upon women’s decision making. High quality contraception, abortion and maternity services are essential components of women’s healthcare and we must ensure those high standards are upheld as we emerge from the pandemic.”

ENDS

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

About bpas

bpas is a charity which sees almost 100,000 women a year for reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception, at clinics across the UK. 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/