Page last updated at 13:48 GMT, Thursday, 20 March 2008

Abortion at industrial level - MP

Medical equipment
"Urgent action" was needed to reduce the figures, Mr Pritchard said

Abortions in England and Wales have reached "industrial levels", according to a Conservative MP who obtained figures on multiple terminations.

The statistics, for 2006, showed nearly 15,000 women were having their third or more abortion, while 54 of those had terminated eight or more pregnancies.

This was "shocking and disturbing", said Mark Pritchard, who sits on the all-party Pro-life group in Parliament.

Health chiefs say they are working to improve access to contraception.

Almost 27m would be spent on this in the next financial year, the Department of Health said in a statement, including a "targeted campaign to highlight contraceptive choices available to women" when they have an abortion.

But Mr Pritchard, the MP for The Wrekin in Shropshire, said abortion was being seen as an alternative to contraception "in far too many cases".

Parliamentary debate

MPs are expected to seek a vote on cutting the current 24-week limit for abortions, possibly to 20 weeks, in an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

This will be debated in Parliament in the coming weeks.

The Conservative leader David Cameron has said he would back a reduction but the government insisted there were "no plans" to change the law.

MPs of all parties are given a free vote - rather than being told how to vote by their party leaders - on what is seen as a conscience issue.

Contraception and abortion services still remain the poor relation in public health, both in terms of health priorities and funding
Chris McCafferty
Labour MP

The figures were supplied to Mr Pritchard in a written Parliamentary reply from health minister Dawn Primarolo.

They showed that 193,737 women in England and Wales had an abortion in 2006.

During that year, women seeking terminations were most likely to have fallen into the 18-to-24 age category.

And of the 54 who had had eight or more abortions, 21 of them were under the age of 30.

Mr Pritchard said. "The government needs to take action to reduce these figures."

The Department of Health stressed that some of its 26.8 million budget for this area in 2008-9 would be spent in areas with "high and increasing rates of teenage pregnancy and high abortion rates".

All primary care trusts (PCTs) would receive additional funding to improve access to contraception, its statement added.

"Women who have undergone abortion are at risk of future unintended pregnancies, and represent an important group with unmet contraceptive needs.

"Future contraception should be discussed, and supplies offered, before a woman is discharged following abortion."

'Contraceptive failure'

Labour MP Chris McCafferty, who chairs Parliament's all-party group on population, development and reproductive health, said all PCTs "must include comprehensive contraception options when commissioning abortion services".

"The simple equation is that poor contraception services equal more rates of abortion, including repeat ones.

"Nevertheless contraception and abortion services still remain the poor relation in public health, both in terms of health priorities and funding.

"This is especially true for women over the age of 25 who don't have specialist services in the way teenagers and young women do."

She said the figures suggested that most women having repeat abortions fell pregnant as "a result of contraceptive failure", having "completed their family, rather than any recklessness".

"The longer you are sexually active, the more likely you are to have an unwanted pregnancy or experience contraceptive failure."

Reducing the time limit from 24 to 20 weeks would make no difference to the number of repeat abortions, Mrs McCafferty said, as almost all of those having an abortion after 20 weeks were "first-timers".


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