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Tuesday, February 16, 1999 Published at 16:17 GMT


Abortions continue to rise

Many women chose not to go full term

The number of abortions being performed in England and Wales has gone up for the third year in a row.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is blaming a scare about the safety of the contraceptive pill, but others disagree.

The ONS report reveals that there were 179,700 terminations in England and Wales in 1997, compared with 177,500 in 1996 and 163,600 in 1995.

Thousands of women stopped taking their oral contraceptives after the Government issued health warnings about seven brands of the pill in October 1995.

Before that scare the abortion rate had fallen for five consecutive years.

The ONS figures showed there were 13.7 abortions per 1,000 women during the third quarter of 1998, compared with 13.2 for the same quarter in 1997 and just 11.8 in the second quarter of 1995, months before the scare.

In the first three-quarters of last year, 140,600 women had an abortion, indicating final figures for 1998 would show another increase.

Since the first quarter of 1996 the abortion rate has gone up every quarter for every age group except in women over 45.

Conceptions rose in 1996, but now appear to be falling despite the rise in abortions.

In the third quarter of 1997 there were 199,200 conceptions, compared with 202,300 for the same period in 1996 and 207,800 in 1995.

Karen Dunnell, editor of the new ONS publication Health Statistics Quarterly, said: "One of the things that is clear is that in 1996 the birth rate, the conception rate and the abortion rate went up.

"What we are now seeing is that the birth rate is levelling off and the abortion rate has continued to rise."

Crisis of confidence

[ image: Doubt was cast over the safety of contraceptive pills]
Doubt was cast over the safety of contraceptive pills
Ms Dunnell said it was difficult to explain the figures.

She said: "I think there is a general feeling that the pill scare caused a crisis of confidence in contraception and may be one of the reasons that larger numbers of women are deciding to use abortion rather than the pill."

However, the Family Planning Association (FPA) disputed the reasons given by the ONS for the rising abortion rate.

FPA chief executive Anne Weyman said: "We think that there are three reasons.

"The first is the general erosion of family planning provision services, which has been going on for a number of years but is obviously having a cumulative effect.

"The second is that there should be better provision of emergency contraception - women should be able to go to a pharmacy and get the morning after pill over the counter.

"And thirdly there seems to be a great deal of concentration on young women and teenage pregnancy - the needs of all women need to be addressed to make sure they have proper access to contraception."

She added: "There are 13 forms of contraception available and women and providers of contraceptive services need to be educated so they know that there are options other than the pill."

ONS statistics also reveal:

  • There were 1% fewer deaths - 555,281 - in England and Wales in 1997 compared with 1996;
  • In 1990-95, life expectancy at birth was 76 years for men in professional and managerial occupations, five years greater than for men in partly skilled or unskilled jobs;
  • In 1996, 6.6% of males and 6.8% of females in England and Wales were receiving treatment for asthma compared with 6.3% for both males and females in 1994. The increase was almost entirely confined to adults.

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