17 June 2019, The Tablet

Abortions in England and Wales hit record level

'The exponential and shocking terrible loss of life has become a matter of celebration for abortion advocates,' said Lord Alton, a Catholic

Abortions in England and Wales hit record level

File photo, nurse on a ward on a UK hospital
Peter Byrne/PA Wire/PA Images

Abortions in England and Wales have hit a record level, according to statistics released by the British government.

Figures published online June 13 by the Department of Health revealed that abortions in 2018 rose by 4 per cent from the previous year.

The 205,295 abortions represented the first time that more than 200,000 have been carried out in a single year.

The previous peak was about 198,000 recorded in 2007. Figures released earlier this year by the Scottish government showed that abortions in Scotland, with over 13,000 in 2018, were also at a 10-year high.

The latest figures reveal significant trends, including a one-third drop in abortions among women under age 19 over a decade; for girls 16-17, the number decrease by half.

Abortions in women ages 20-24 also declined, but the number rose slightly for women over 25, and more steeply for those over 30 years, with 19.9 women ages 30-35 having abortions in 2018 compared to 15.6 per 1,000 women in 2008.

In women over 35, there was a rise from 6.7 abortions per 1,000 women in 2008 to 9.2 per 1,000 in 2018.

The numbers of repeat abortions also went up: 39 per cent were second or more abortions. Abortions for babies with Down syndrome increased 42 percent.

One factor that has remained constant is that more than 80 per cent of abortions are provided to single women.

A spokesman for the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales said "every abortion is a tragedy."

"Catholics, along with many others, have spoken consistently in favour of the intrinsic value of human life and both the good of the child in the womb and the good of the mother," the spokesman said. "We lament the loss of life due to abortion and seek a change of minds and hearts in favour of the inviolability of every life and the care of mothers who are pregnant. Recently, Pope Francis reiterated this teaching and emphasised that every new life is a gift to be welcomed."

Lord Alton of Liverpool, a member of the House of Lords who has campaigned against abortion, told Catholic News Service in a June 14 email the figures were a sign of a "throwaway culture."

"The exponential and shocking terrible loss of life has become a matter of celebration for abortion advocates," said Lord Alton, a Catholic.

"In reality, these figures -- which amount to the violent ending of one life in the womb every three minutes -- represent heartbreak and terrible loss. They are also a stark reminder of the throwaway culture that wilfully misuses and casually disposes of everything from precious resources to life itself," he said.

Clare McCarthy of Right to Life UK described the increase as a "national tragedy."

"Every one of these abortions represents a failure of our society to protect the lives of babies in the womb and a failure to offer full support to women with unplanned pregnancies," she said in a June 13 statement sent to CNS.

"Polling shows large majorities of women in the UK support changes to our abortion laws that would have a positive impact on lowering the number of abortions," she said. "Seventy percent of women want the current time limit on abortion to be lowered, and 91 per cent of women want a ban on sex-selective abortion."

"We are calling on the government to urgently bring forward sensible new restrictions and increased support for women with unplanned pregnancies," she added. "This would ensure we were working together as a society to reduce the tragic number of abortions that happen each year."

Clare Murphy of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the largest private abortion provider in Britain, said the reason for the increase in abortions for older women were "complex," but she suggested they were mainly linked to financial matters such as access to state benefits and a lack of free contraception.

She said that, despite the high figures, the abortions laws in the UK should be liberalised.

"In past weeks, there has been much condemnation of the situation in the US, where we are seeing systematic attempts to completely rollback women's reproductive rights," Murphy said.

"If we are to make a stand, we simply must address the situation that exists within our own borders," she said, adding that her organisation believed "abortion is a key part of women's reproductive health care, essential if women are to be able to make their own decisions about their own bodies, lives and families, and it should be regulated in the same way as all other women's health care procedures."

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