Better education is needed to stop teenage pregnancy, experts say
The number of abortions carried out on girls aged under 18 in Wales is at a five-year high, assembly government figures show.
Latest available figures show 1,043 teenagers underwent the procedure in 2007, up from 906 in 2002.
Conservative health spokesman Andrew RT Davies said the rise was "worrying".
Dr Andrew Dearden of the British Medical Association (BMA) in Wales said education was key to improving the situation.
Overall, the number of legal abortions carried out on women in Wales rose to 8,765 in 2007 - the equivalent of 24 a day - up 18% from 7,396 abortions in 2002.
The highest number of abortions, 2,641, was carried out on women aged between 20 and 24 in 2007, the figures, which are published on the assembly government website revealed.
They also showed that more than 2,400 of the women who had an abortion in 2007 had already had another abortion in previous years.
Dr Dearden, who is chair of the BMA's Welsh Council, said there were "multiple reasons" behind the rise in abortion figures - which also mean the UK has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe.
ABORTIONS BY AGE
- 214 in 2002, 221 in 2007
- 692 in 2002, 822 in 2007
- 916 in 2002, 1,209 in 2007
- 2,141 in 2002, 2,641 in 2007
- 1,364 in 2002, 1,707 in 2007
- 1,095 in 2002, 1,040 in 2007
35 and over
- 974 in 2002, 1,125 in 2007
Abortions in 2002 and 2007 per age group. Source: Welsh Assembly Government statistics
"For a long period of time the termination figures were going down," he said.
"I think it's very difficult to say what's behind a rise as there are multiple things that could be behind it. Often it is just trends in society.
"But I think education in schools is really important, along with an increased awareness of contraception."
He said he was particularly worried about possible family health clinic closures which he had been told about.
"I have heard about one or two that have closed in Cardiff and somebody told me last week that they were considering closing some in north Wales," he said.
"I guess it's to save money but it's not going to help."
Julie Bentley, the chief executive of the Family Planning Association, said there had to be young people-friendly and accessible contraceptive services to reduce the number of unwanted teenage pregnancies in Wales.
"It is vital that young people have good access to confidential sexual health services, including information about abortion," she said.
"It is also essential that sex and relationships education starts early and schools work with parents to equip young people with the information and confidence necessary for them to make positive, informed, responsible decisions about their sexual health."
Conservative AM Mr Davies said more needed to be done to prevent teenagers getting pregnant in the first place.
"These are deeply worrying figures which suggest much more needs to be done to support sex education programmes in Wales, particularly among young people," he said.
"Aside from the human implications, the rise in abortions over recent years has consequences for the NHS which the assembly government cannot afford to ignore."
Simon Blake, chief executive of Brook, the sexual health charity which offers advice to young people, agreed that access to clinics and contraception was important to help stop further abortion increases.
"A rise in abortion rates shows that there are young women who are getting pregnant who don't want to be - and therefore we must help young people feel empowered and confident to only have sex they choose, when they are mature enough to enjoy and take responsibility for their sexual choices," he said.
"We must also ensure there are contraceptive services available and young people are skilled to access them - then we will see a decrease in conception and abortion rates."
Vivienne Rose, clinic manager for the charity British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said: "A lack of NHS resources for contraception is an urgent issue. But it does not follow that we should stigmatise the small number of girls, less than 16 years old, who have become pregnant and do not feel able to become mothers.
"We see women of all ages who have tried their level best to avoid an unintended pregnancy and are extremely distressed when their contraception has let them down."
"The response to an unintended pregnancy in these circumstances should be to make young women feel supported to make their own choice about motherhood, rather than condemning them."
Initially the Welsh Assembly Government did not want to comment, but it later said: "Considering having an abortion is an extremely difficult decision for women and it is therefore important that they receive help and support from the NHS to ensure they get safe care and treatment.
"All GP practices in Wales are funded to provided contraceptive services as part of their core contract.
"Sex and relationship education is an important part of growing up. Young people need to understand the physical and emotional aspects of sexual relations and be aware of the personal and sexual-health services available to them."
The assembly government has introduced a revised framework for seven-to-19-year-olds to develop their self-esteem and self-awareness "while empowering young people to explore the many aspects of sexuality and provide them with a knowledge of healthy personal relationships".
The assembly government is also to consult on a new sexual health strategy covering such areas as teenage pregnancy, contraceptive advice and access to sexual health services.