Almost 215,000 abortions were carried out last year

Abortions hit a record high during Covid: Almost 215,000 terminations were carried out last year after ‘DIY’ at-home pills were approved

  • Number of abortions in England and Wales rose 2 per cent from 2020 to 2021 
  • More than half in 2021 involved women taking mifepristone and misoprostol 
  • At-home pills for early medical abortion at home were introduced in 2020

Abortions reached another all-time high last year in England and Wales, official data revealed today.

Nearly 215,000 terminations were carried out during 2021, up 2 per cent on the year before.

More than half were carried out at home, according to the report from the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities.

It highlights the popularity of the ‘pills by post’ service, which was set up at the start of the pandemic so that women who were unable to see doctors in person could still access early medical abortions.

Ministers wanted to axe the scheme this summer but their plans were defeated.

Clare Murphy, head of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), suggested the policy may have had a role in last year’s record abortion numbers.

She said: ‘The pandemic, and the policies adopted by the Government in response, have had a clear impact on women’s pregnancy choices.

‘Faced with economic uncertainty and job insecurity, women and their partners have been making sometimes tough decisions around continuing or ending a pregnancy.’

Office for Health Improvement and Disparities data shows 214,869 women had abortions in England and Wale in 2021, up 2 per cent on the more than 210,000 recorded in 2020

Temporary measures were introduced to allow the use of at-home pills for early medical abortion at home in March 2020 (file photo)

Home abortions were approved at the end of March 2020 by then Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

The new rules allowed women within the first ten weeks of pregnancy to take the first pill at home following a teleconsultation with a clinician.

This was applied in England, Scotland and Wales, but not in Northern Ireland which only started permitting abortions from 2020.

But in February, the Government announced the rule would be ending in August, with women again required to go to clinics to get their first abortion pill.

Health minister Maggie Throup said the move would ensure the ‘wellbeing and safety’ of women.

However, rebel MPs voted down the plan to scrap the scheme in March.

After an emotional debate, 215 MPs voted to amend the Health and Care Bill to keep the service in place. 

These included 72 Conservatives such as Cabinet ministers Grant Shapps and Brandon Lewis and former PM Theresa May.

Conservative MP Laura Trott said that keeping the service was ‘a matter for human dignity, for women’s dignity’.

Medical abortion, which can be carried out up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, involves taking two mifepristone and misoprostol. 

The two medications are different to the ‘morning after’ pill.

Under pre-pandemic rules, women took the first pill to terminate a pregnancy at an abortion clinic or hospital under supervision from a clinician.

They were then able to take the second at home up to 48 hours later.

When the virus struck, however, ministers shifted to allowing both pills to be taken at home following a teleconsultation to ensure women still had access to the service.

The move to continue at home abortions was criticised by some MPs and campaigners for putting ‘thousands more women at risk from DIY home abortions’ back in March.

But pro-choice advocates heralded the continuation of the service. 

Aside from the pills, women can also get surgical abortions if their pregnancy is too far along. These made up 13 per cent of terminations last year.

The number of abortions carried out in over-35s has been rising over the past decade. In 2011, 27,199 had a termination, compared to 40,789 in 2021. 

It has been linked to pressures to maintain their careers and lifestyles at a time when many are in unstable relationships. 

At the same time, rates in teenagers have been falling. In 2021, 6,273 under-18s had a procedure, down from 14,599 in 2011. 

Overall, there were 19.2 abortions carried out for every 1,000 women in 2021. 

This was up from 18.9 the year before and 12 per cent more than the 17.2 per 1,000 in 2011.

Rates were highest for women aged 22 (at 31.0 per 1,000 women).

The data also showed 43 per cent of women undergoing abortions had had one or more previous abortions, up from 36 per cent a decade ago.

Meanwhile, there were 3,370 abortions performed because of a risk the baby would have been born with disabilities. This is a slight increase on 2020 (3,083).

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