17% rise in proportion of women who are mothers having abortions since 2006

There has been a 17% rise in the last decade in the proportion of women who are already mothers having abortions, figures show.

New data from the Department of Health shows a steady rise since 2006 in the proportion of women who are mothers opting for terminations.

In 2006, 47% of women were already mothers to at least one child, but this rose to 55% in 2016.

More than two-thirds (70%) of women having abortions in 2016 were either in a relationship or married, up from 53% a decade ago.

Overall, the abortion rate has remained stable, at 16.0 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age.

Abortion rates have been decreasing among women under 30, but are rising among those aged 30 and over.

There are now more abortions to older mothers, the data for England and Wales shows.

Among women aged 35 and over, there were 30,471 abortions in 2016, up from 28,562 a decade earlier.

Among those aged 30 to 34, there were 34,108, up from 28,153 a decade ago.

Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), which provides abortions, said: "These figures illustrate that women need access to good abortion services across their reproductive lifetimes, from the point at which they become sexually active right through to their menopause.

"We are a society that trusts women to make their own choices when faced with an unplanned pregnancy or a pregnancy they cannot continue with, and we need an abortion framework which reflects that."

She said there has been a rise in recent years in the numbers of women ending early pregnancies with tablets.

But she said abortion laws in the UK were restrictive.

She said: "Unlike in many other countries, including the US, France and Sweden, women cannot use these pills at home once prescribed and may be forced to attend multiple appointments, which can be a real struggle for those with work and childcare commitments.

"Because the law forces them to take the medication in a clinic before travelling home, they are at risk of miscarrying en route."

She said abortion should be removed from criminal law altogether "and regulated in the same robust, patient-centred way as all other clinical procedures".

Anne Scanlan, director of education for the pro-life charity Life, said: "The abortion rate in this country is a national tragedy.

"While this may be profitable for the abortion industry, each one of those abortions represents a personal crisis for a woman and the loss of her child."

She added: "Simply placing women on the abortion conveyor belt does not solve the underlying issues which lead to unplanned pregnancy and abortion.

"We urge the new Government to make support for pregnant women a priority, particularly for vulnerable pregnant women and those in crisis situations who want to keep their baby but feel they have no other choice.

"The current situation is not 'progressive'. It reflects a failure to offer real choice to women, and a failure to protect the most vulnerable in society whose lives have been ended through abortion."

The figures also show a rise in abortions for babies with Down's syndrome, from 689 in 2015 to 706 in 2016.

Campaigners have raised fears this figure could rise even further due to the availability of non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT), a more accurate test for the condition than that available on the NHS.

The test can also tell expectant parents the sex of the baby from as early as nine weeks.

It is largely available privately, though some NHS hospitals also offer the test to high-risk women.

It is expected to be rolled out across the NHS from next year.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has raised concerns that NIPT could be used for sex selection.

Lynn Murray, spokeswoman for the Don't Screen Us Out campaign, said: "As mother of a daughter who has Down's syndrome it is deeply concerning to see that the number of abortions for Down's syndrome have again increased.

"Sadly this is the tip of the iceberg, when the Government follows through on proposals to make these tests available on the NHS, their own projections show that there will be a steep increase in the numbers of children with Down's syndrome screened out by termination."

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