Tuesday, May 25, 2010

189,000 Abortions in 2009

The Department of Health has today published the abortion figures for England and Wales in 2009.

• the total number of abortions was 189,100, compared with 195,296 in 2008, a fall of 3.2%
• the age-standardised abortion rate was 17.5 per 1,000 resident women aged 15-44, compared with 18.2 in 2008
• the abortion rate was highest at 33 per 1,000, for women aged 19, 20 & 21, each lower than in 2008
• the under-16 abortion rate was 4.0 and the under-18 rate was 17.6 per 1,000 women, both lower than in 2008
• 94% of abortions were funded by the NHS; of these, over half (60%) took place in the independent sector under NHS contract
• 91% of abortions were carried out at under 13 weeks gestation; 75% were at under 10 weeks
• medical abortions accounted for 40% of the total
• 2,085 abortions (1%) were under ground E, risk that the child would be born handicapped
• in 2009, there were 6,643 abortions for non-residents carried out in hospitals and clinics in England and Wales (6,862 in 2008)

I suppose the good news, if you can call it that, is that the trend is down. But Britain still carries out more abortions per head of population than virtually any other European country. Whatever side of the pro-choice, pro-life debate you happen to be on, surely we can agree that these figures continue to horrify.


Walter said...

If you're pro-choice, why would this ( or any other ) number be horrifying? Surely such a reaction would generally be confined to the ranks of the pro-lifers?

Anonymous said...

Sorry to be pedantic, but how can we say the trend is down, based on just two years / data points?

Hugh said...

Walter, "If you're pro-choice, why would this ( or any other ) number be horrifying?"

I'd hope most in the pro-choice camp would be horrified at some point if the number climbed unremittingly - even if only when it was half or the majority of all pregnancies, for example. After all, they're pro-choice, not actually pro abortion.

_ said...

Those who complain that some of their tax money will be going towards the state visit of the Pope might like to consider how Catholics feel about their tax money going towards all these NHS-provided abortions, year after year.

Cronan said...

No, it's not horrifying at all.

What would be horrifying is to live in a society where right-wing nuts got to decide for the rest of us how women should behave when they get pregnant. What would be horrifying is the idea of 189,000 additional unwanted babies being brought into the world.

Anonymous said...

Walter: Presumably a pro-choice person doesn't see an abortion as an actual goal. Imagine the impact it can have on you your whole life through. Unfortunately with numbers like these, few of us need imagine, as theres a good chance that we know someone who has been long term affected by it.

Very brave of you, and right as well, to highlight these numbers Iain.

Roger Thornhill said...

Even if you are pro life, surely the fact that 91% are performed under 13 weeks and 75% under 10 weeks is rather better than the impression sometimes touted of vast numbers carried out around the limit.

Yes 18,000 are carried out at over 13 weeks. Stats on how many are a result of genetic issues or catastrophic abnormality discovered via tests which can only be done after that time might also shed light on how the decision making process works.

Unknown said...

The idea that if people are "pro-choice" that they would have no views on the choice that women end up making is ridiculous. Pro-choice is about women being able to make a choice not being pro one choice or another.

Iain, I would add a caveat that the non-resident numbers are under reported in that many women from Ireland especially use the addresses of friends or family in the UK when accessing abortion services.

Mr Eugenides said...


It's not actually true that the per capita abortion rate is higher here than in "virtually any other European country". According to recent figures, we are ninth in the EU "league table" of abortion rates - just behind France, just ahead of Italy and Spain - and almost exactly comparable with the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Our abortion figures are pretty unexceptional.

Walter said...

@Hugh - I'm not really following the logic that pro-choice advocates would actually care that much one way or the other, at least in terms of the numbers vs the endless choice argument.

Presumably at some point you might make the point that not enough children are being born to support older generations, but that's a very different issue.

@forgelindin, "Presumably a pro-choice person doesn't see an abortion as an actual goal."

I don't think I suggested that. I know a couple of women who have gone through the abortion experience and the resultant depression and feelings of guilt, but that doesn't change my belief in the right of choice. It also doesn't cast any light on the numbers being horrifying or not as far as I can see.

@Dan Sullivan : I'm not sure what you're saying here. Are you asserting that pro-choicers, whilst supporting the right of choice, would hold ( presumably negative ) views of a woman's particular choice?

Personally I'm of the opinion that what a pregnant woman decides to do is none of my or anyone else's damn business

Paul said...

@Cronan - What would be horrifying is if 189,000 human beings were killed every year in a totally defenceless, innocent state and the killers were considered not guilty by law, even being paid out of public funds.

That would be horrific. That's like sixty-three 9/11s every year (going by death toll). Just in the UK.

I'm no pro-choicer, but it is quite possible for a pro-choicer to be against the practice (at least at these kind of levels).

Cronan said...

Paul, at some point we need to decide that bringing up 9/11 in a discussion is equivalent to bringing up the Nazis - your point is automatically null and void.

Your straw-man wasn't very subtle - we are not talking about human beings here, we're talking about embryos and fetuses. At under 13 weeks, over 170,000 of this number, it's not clear that they are even able to feel pain. Only 20% of fetuses are viable at 23 weeks, with many survivors being profoundly disabled.

So, to restate your position in a way that is factually accurate, it is not horrifying that 189,000 blastocysts, embryos and fetuses are killed every year.

You say you're not a pro-choicer. You probably describe yourself as pro-life. What you actually are is anti-freedom, and anti-choice. Keep your dubious morals and your dodgy beliefs far away from me please.

Glyn H said...

Far better to have terminations than thousands of unwanted and illegitimate children for the state to care for.

Dan Sullivan’s 2nd paragraph brings us to the next spectacular cash saving opportunity.

When presenting oneself at any NHS outlet one should be asked for your valid NHI number and if and/or passport. All non-British citizens should pay in advance for this private treatment and EU citizens have a European Health Insurance Card; we need one to claim assistance in France etc when touring. Also note that non-emergency treatment including pregnancy (except for crises) will not be available on the NHS except for UK citizens. The farce of us seeking to provide an NHS service to the world should be ended and now is a very good time to put it into practice.

Bear in mind that the unfortunate Damilola Taylor was only here so that he could get gain an education at UK taxpayers expense and his elder sister could leech long-term health treatment from the NHS. Neither of them should have been here.

Cronan said...

Mr. Dale, I've just done some research that confirms what Mr. Eugenides stated, the per capita abortion rate in the UK is unexceptional, 9th or 10th in the EU.

Please let us know your sources.

Calum said...

There is nothing wrong with being bloody angry at the failure of sex education programmes to have an impact on these figures. Contraception, including the morning after pill, is easy to obtain and free if necessary. The only explanation for the continued failure of people to use it is that they are not confident enough in their knowledge to insist on its use.

Roll over the stupid whining brigade that bleats about the innocence of children and teach them young, early, and often about everything to do with sex and relationships so young people can make the right choices at the right time and not have to sit in a hospital room, waiting for the pill she's just taken to force a miscarriage of her unintended child.

Abortion must be an option, but as Clinton said, "safe, legal - and rare".

wild said...

I think it is time that we had State clinics for the mass disposal of old people. Surely they could think of some quietly efficient way of disposing of them. Gas chambers perhaps?

Opinicus said...

A high abortion rate is good eugenics

Hugh said...

@Walter: @Hugh - I'm not really following the logic that pro-choice advocates would actually care that much one way or the other..."

I've always understood the pro-choice argument to be that while abortions are, generally speaking, undesirable we accept them as a necessary cost of safeguarding women's freedom. As I understood it, it was a question of balance.

Such a view doesn't preclude being shocked if the abortion rate is such that it seems it is being used casually or if abortions are being carried out very late. Someone who is pro-choice would then perhaps argue for greater efforts to promote contraception so fewer abortions were needed.

Your argument seems to be that being pro-choice necessarily means that abortions raise no ethical issues for you at all. It also, as far as I can tell, would suggest we should entirely remove the term limit on them. Personally, even among the pro-choice camp, I suspect that's a minority view.

Patrick said...

189,000 less drug addicts, drug dealers, alcoholics, hustlers, pimps, prostitutes and criminals on the streets!

Cronan said...

Glyn H: Re: Damilola Taylor - so what is your point here? You seem to me to be a hairs-breadth away from saying "it was his own fault".

Paul said...

Cronan - 9/11 was brought up to indicate the scale. People are bad at big numbers.

My argument was not a straw man, since they are human beings.

You make possible suggestions as to why embryos, fetuses, etc. are not human beings. But none of them can be held consistently.

If you are not a human being unless you feel pain, then you cease to be human under general anaesthetic.

If being viable without the help of others, neither are babies outside the womb. So they're not humans.

Survivors at 23 weeks may be few in number, may be disabled, but in what way does that make the practice acceptable?

Would you care to suggest why they should not be treated as human life?

I am actually pro-freedom (of the baby). Pro-choice (of the baby).

I have never seen a reason for the moral acceptance of abortion that does not also allow for infanticide and eugenics. Perhaps you'd care to provide me with one.

You could say that the woman's choice is more important than the human/semi-human's life. But that's a separate matter. All I'm arguing above is that life in the womb is more significant than mere cells.

Cronan said...

Hugh, forgelindin, Calum it seems to me that the facts about abortion in the UK are as follows, ignoring Daily Mail statistics:

a) abortion rates are falling
b) we rank 9th or 10th in Europe per capita
c) 40% of abortions are for medical reasons, and are supported by all but the looniest
d) 91% of abortions are performed under 13 weeks, when the fetus is not viable and feels no pain

I still don't understand what there is to be shocked about, or am I missing something?

Cronan said...

Opinicus, Wild - do sod off, please, you stupid bloody trolls.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Abortion is murder. Why is it that your average, every days murderers cannot cite "pro-choice"? if they decide it is in their best interests to kill somebody?

It is always interesting to see how many "pro-choice" people are hysterical about protecting the rights of foxes and other fluffy animals. Can no one else spot the contradiction of logic in that?

wild said...

"Such a view doesn't preclude being shocked if the abortion rate is such that it seems it is being used casually or if abortions are being carried out very late."

How very bourgeois. The first Modern Leftist, Rousseau, sent all his new born children (to their likely death) at foundling orphanages. All that matters is "I want".

Little Black Sambo said...

Personally I'm of the opinion that what a pregnant woman decides to do is none of my or anyone else's damn business.

It is however the damn business of the defenceless child, who till recently was protected by law.

Rob said...

Perhaps they should try and concentrate on not getting pregnant in the first place by ensuring they use birth control.

Don't get me wrong, I'm pro-choice...and am never one to turn down the charms of a lusty young lady (It seems rude to refuse!) but adequate measures need to be taken to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Abortions should be last resort.

Little Black Sambo said...

Cronan: "...we are not talking about human beings here".

Oh, that settles it then.

Walter said...

@Hugh - certainly I would agree being pro-choice doesn't preclude being shocked - but I don't see the case for the assertion that being shocked should be the default for pro-choicers. Straw poll of my peers here, who are all pro-choice, was general apathy one way or the other.

I'm certainly not in favour of removing term limits, in cases where it comes down to a matter of choice rather than medical necessity ; I'm not sure where I gave that impression.

Whether the term limit is correct is really another argument ; I have no dog in that fight at all. I think like most pro lifers, if I can make that assertion, it's obvious that a baby delivered at term is fully human, if not definitely self aware, but in any case is deserving of protection.

I think it's a reasonable assumption ( I know some pro-lifers would vehemently disagree with me here ) that at some point the blastocyst is merely a non aware collection of cells, which pro-choicers would maintain is not deserving of protection at this point.

The logical argument from there is that at some point, there is a crossover from non human to human. Where that point is I'll happily defer to medical consensus on.

I will freely admit, that I have no ethical concerns about abortion in general, subject to term limits.

Unknown said...

Just to add a slight twist to the argument. In a book by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner called Freakonomics there is strong support for the hypothesis that abortion reduces crime.


Unknown said...

I don't find it horrifying at all. If 189,000 women decided that disposing of an unwanted foetus was a better idea than giving birth to an unwanted child, then:

a) It's their choice, and nothing to do with us.
b) It's a thoroughly good thing for society. An unwanted child has less chance than a wanted one of becoming a contented and productive member of society.
c) The 189,000 were foetuses, not people. Many millions more were aborted naturally in the first days and weeks of pregnancy.

One of the wonderful things about the UK compared to the US is that abortion is not a political issue, and anti-abortion campaigners have a marginal influence on the public debate. Long may that continue to be the case.

Anonymous said...


I think people are shocked at the absolute numbers, rather than percentage breakdowns.

Unknown said...

@Walter : I was asserting that some people might be pro-choice, and while supporting the right of choice, would hold a preference that there might be fewer abortions than there are. Surely, it is not impossible to be pro-choice but also pro-addressing the factors that lead women to make that choice. After all, wouldn't it be better if women who make the choice because of economic reasons had more support available to them, that in the cases of those who do so because of rape that more was done to reduce the incidence of rape, or that those who become pregnant as a consequence of unprotected, that they and their partner had had better advice on contraception made available to them? All of those approaches and others would have the result of reducing the number of abortions. Or is it the idea that all of those situations are 'solved' by terminations and hence no effort need be put into addressing them?

You are hardly claiming that the mantra of safe, legal and rare is to cast a negative light on the individual choices people make?

@Glyn H, those Irish women are typically going private, not on the NHS. They merely use an English address so as not to receive any correspondence at their home address in Ireland.

Hugh said...

@Cronan said... "I still don't understand what there is to be shocked about"

@wild said... How very bourgeois... Leftist, Rousseau...children (to their likely death)... All that matters is "I want".

It's good to know there is at least one thing that unites the prochoice and prolife supporters: an inability to follow an argument.

Alan Douglas said...

If only someone had the genius required to invent some safe and easy method of contraception.

Oh, I know, some kind of envelope perhaps - we could call them condoms. We could give them away free in schools and clinics, and this would save so much upset and hassle while allowing the great unwashed as much pleasure as they could stand.

I even know a good name for such items : condoms.

Come on you geniuses ....

Alan Douglas

Little Black Sambo said...

Alan Douglas "We could give them away free in schools and clinics".

That should work.

Alexandra said...

The argument to reduce the limit is powerful....as are the pictures that frequently accompany them. However, the vast majority (90% according to Iain's figures) of terminations occur early in the pregnancy where viability is not an issue. A significant number of 2nd trimester terminations, especially those after 20 weeks, are due to major problems that have been identified at the anomoly scan (19-21 weeks ish). The problem is identified, the patient is sent to a specialist for further scans and testing (a third opinion may be needed), and there needs to be serious discussion over the likely outcomes before a decision is made.
Although it is legal to perform a termination at any gestation if there are sufficient concerns re: maternal or fetal health, nobody chooses this course without a great deal of thought.

wild said...

"It's good to know there is at least one thing that unites the prochoice and prolife supporters: an inability to follow an argument."

Nor should we forget those people (such as yourself) who are too stupid to notice when others are agreeing with them.

Malcolm Redfellow said...

Good grief, Dale!

You must be desperate for statporn to start an abortion thread.

Why not one on carrying weapons?

That'll bring out the other batch of loonies.

The Pink Cabal said...

As a very proud pro-choice camp member I find this number quite horrifying, mainly due to the fact that the message of contraception clearly isn't getting through. We live in an age of increasing STDs which cause more damage and long-term illness than purely abortion.

The trend seems to show that it's across all age groups and that either men and women aren't taking the responsibility of safe sex seriously or women aren't able to ensure their own sexual safety against men confidently enough. Both of which are worrying.

happiness said...

Perhaps getting totally zonked out of one's mind on booze and drugs overrides the safe sex message. I am old enough to remember the days when abortion was illegal and know of 3 women who had illegal abortions. One was because she was divorced and her boyfriend was catholic. They were trying to get her previous marriage annulled so they could get married in a catholic church as his parents would never accept a divorcee as a daughter-in-law. How he, as a "good" catholic boy, could justify abortion on those grounds is completely beyond me. There are all sorts of reasons for abortion, and they are not for me to decide whether or not they are valid reasons. I offer my support and commiserations to any woman who feels abortion is the best choice for her under her circumstances. As for the pro-lifers, they are not pro-life but pro-power to themselves.