Latest Government figures show the number of abortions in England and Wales in 2020 was the highest ever recorded. There were 209,917 abortions, the largest number since the Abortion Act was introduced in 1967. The abortion rate for women under 18 decreased compared to 2019 (from 8.1 to 6.9 people per 1,000), but there was an increase for women over 35 (from 9.7 to 10.6 per 1,000). The statistics for 2020 also show a rise in repeat abortions from 83,624 in 2019 up to 87,926 in 2020. Taking both abortion pills at home accounted for 47 per cent of all abortions between April to December 2020. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the UK government put in place temporary approval enabling women and girls to take both pills for early medical abortion in their own homes, following a telephone or e-consultation with a clinician.
Prior to the pandemic, government policy permitted only the second pill for early medical abortion to be taken at home and that women should attend an abortion service to take the first. In May, more than 600 medical professionals signed an open letter to the Prime Minister, the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales requesting ‘at home’ abortion schemes be revoked with immediate effect. The letter followed public consultations by each government on whether to make the temporary ‘at-home’ abortion policy permanent and outlined the risks that the temporary measures present to women’s health and welfare.
Spokesperson for pro-life group Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said in a statement: “This significant rise in abortions coincides with the temporary measures allowing ‘DIY’ home abortions in the UK. Since governments permitted ‘DIY’ home abortions, many stories of illegal late-term abortions and safety abuses have come to light”. “We are calling on the UK and Welsh Governments to end these ‘DIY’ home abortion schemes immediately”. Christian public policy charity CARE’s CEO, Nola Leach, said in a statement: “The fact that the abortion rate for women 35 or over has gone up since last year raises big questions about the pressures of modern life. “The instability of cohabitation and the intense pressure for couples to maintain two incomes are taking a heavy price.”
Ms Leach added that a relaxation of rules to allow controversial ‘home abortions’ had affected the overall number whilst placing women at increased risk of harm. “Under this new framework, women can order abortion drugs by video, telephone, or other electronic means without proper face-to-face consultation with medics. Under the use of the term ‘other electronic means’ there is nothing to stop it including ‘consultation’ by email or texts. This raises serious questions: who is on the other end of the communication? How do they know that she is only ten weeks pregnant? How do they know the pills are for her and not someone else? Most disturbingly, there is no way of knowing if a communication is from an abusive partner coercing a woman into abortion,” she added.
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