Thursday, 19 June 2008

uncomfortable truths (2) - abortion

Here are the latest statistics on abortion published today (19th June 2008 source BBC).
  • The number of abortions among girls aged under 16 rose by 10% to 4,376 in 2007, official figures for England and Wales show.
  • In the under 14s, abortions rose by 21% from 135 in 2006 to 163 last year.
  • The number of abortions in all women rose by 2.5% to reach an all time high of almost 200,000.
  • Scotland has also seen a rise in the number of abortions with figures published in May showing there were 13,703 carried out in 2007 compared with 13,163 in 2006.
  • The number of abortions carried out has been rising ever since the 1967 Abortion Act - with just over 22,000 terminations in the first year.
  • In the past decade, the number of abortions in the under 16s has risen by 27%.
  • Some 90% of abortions were carried out at under 13 weeks' gestation and 70% were at under 10 weeks, a slight increase on last year's figures.
  • A total of 198,499 abortions were carried out in 2007.
  • The number of terminations carried out using the "abortion pill" was 35% up from 30% in 2006.
  • Around 1% of abortions were carried out on the grounds that the child would be born disabled.
But at the same time pregnancy rates have fallen.

What was very telling was the astonishment of the presenters on Radio 5 Live Drive who were struggling to take in what the statistics revealed as they reported the story.

Also very telling were some of the responses to the figures:
Health Minister Dawn Primarolo said the figures showed considerable progress in reducing waiting times for abortion, with two-thirds of women now having a termination at under 10 weeks. She added: "Contraception plays a vital role in preventing teenage pregnancy and earlier this year I announced a further investment of £26.8m to improve women's access to contraception and help reduce the number of abortions, repeat abortions and teenage pregnancies."

Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said: "Much more needs to be done to equip young people to deal with the complexities of their personal relationships and to empower them to ask for high quality, user-friendly forms of contraception without embarrassment."

Gill Frances, chair of the Teenage Pregnancy Independent Advisory Group, said: "We know what works to reduce abortion amongst teenagers. We need high quality sex and relationships education at school and at home and effective contraception. Primary Care Trusts must ensure they are investing in contraceptive services for young people."

My questions are:
Do these figures suggest that young people do not know about contraception?
Do many people now view abortion as an alternative form of contraception?


Revd John P Richardson said...

Hi Phil. I was interested to see you'd picked up on this (I didn't get round to blogging it myself). What was fascinating was the response of some government minister or someone who said the answer is more sex-education.

I guess the reason for this is the conviction that if only youngsters knew more about contraception they would avoid getting pregnant. However, as someone I was listening to the other day pointed out, this could actually be causing the problem.

The reason is that all contraception has a failure rate (even the pill). For the condom it can be easily 10% - higher with lack of skill in application.

Now, if you persuade people in a population cohort that using contraception leads to 'safer sex', and if as a result more of them have more sex than before, then you will actually get a rise in pregnancies in that cohort (and hence abortions will tend to rise).

If, therefore, sex-education at a younger age leads not only to an understanding of contraception but to younger people having sex who previously wouldn't have (because they didn't understand about contraception and were too scared of the risks) your success in sex-education will actually push up the pregnancy and abortion rates.

Someone else will have to work out whether that is what is happening here, but I reckon it should be considered.

Philip Ritchie said...

Interesting point John and worth finding out if there is any research.I guess the question that would need to be asked is how many of those having an abortion became pregnant despite using contraception?

The other piece of research I would like to see is on how many abortions were as a result of unwanted conception while under the influence of alcohol.

I think the responses suggesting the need for more education about contraception could only be sustained if it could be shown that those having abortions didn't know about contraception or how to use it. Interestingly the highest group for abortions were the 19-24 group who are more likely to know about contraception and have less problem with access to it.

The other reason for questioning the contraception/sex education response is that my sister in law, who is a GP, published research on teenage pregnancy. She discovered that many young girls deliberately became pregnant because they wanted to become mothers and ignorrance about contraception was not the issue.

The irony is that pregnancy rates are falling and infertility rates rising and yet as a society we are still seeing an increase in abortions.