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U.K. Abortion Statistics

Facts and figures relating to the frequency of abortion in Great Britain.

U.K. Abortion Statistics: Facts and figures relating to the frequency of abortion in Great Britain.
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Abortion statistics for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are available from the Department of Health and Social Care (England and Wales), National Services Scotland, and the Department of Health (Northern Ireland). Abortion was legalized in Northern Ireland by British parliament in 2019 but remains broadly unavailable. The following information has been gleaned from all three sources and combined with available birth data1 to provide an overview of the frequency and demography of abortion in Great Britain.

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ABORTION, visit: Prenatal Development, Abortion Procedures or Abortion Pictures

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ANNUAL ABORTION STATISTICS

  • In 2019, a reported 223,102 abortions took place in Great Britain, up from 218,642 in 2018, 209,985 in 2017, and 202,524 in 2016.
  • Approximately 24% of all pregnancies in Great Britain (excluding spontaneous miscarriages) currently end in abortion.
  • The highest abortion rates* belong to Merseyside (20.0), London (19.8), and Greater Manchester (19.7); the lowest abortion rates belong to Bath, Gloucestershire, Swindon and Wiltshire (12.6), Derbyshire (13.0), and East Anglia (13.2).

    *The abortion rate is the number of abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44.

Annual Abortion Statistics (England & Wales)

  • In 2019, a reported 209,519 abortions took place in England and Wales, up from 205,295 in 2018, 197,533 in 2017, and 190,406 in 2016.
  • Approximately 25% of all pregnancies (excluding spontaneous miscarriages) currently end in abortion.
  • Annual abortion totals by selected years:
    2015 2010 2005 2000 1995 1990 1985 1980 1975 1970
    191,014 196,109 194,353 185,375 163,638 186,912 171,873 160,903 139,702 86,565
    2015 2010 2005 2000 1995
    191,014 196,109 194,353 185,375 163,638
    1990 1985 1980 1975 1970
    186,912 171,873 160,903 139,702 86,565
  • Total annual abortions in England and Wales have increased 282% since 1969, the first full year that abortion was legal. The total number of annual abortions more than doubled between 1969 and 1971. The 209,519 abortions reported in 2019 is the highest total on record.
  • More than 8.8 million abortions occurred in England and Wales between 1968 and 2019.

Annual Abortion Statistics (Scotland)

  • In 2019, a reported 13,583 abortions took place in Scotland—up from 13,347 in 2018, 12,452 in 2017, and 12,118 in 2016.
  • The number and rate of Scotland abortions reached a ten-year high in 2019.
  • Approximately 21% of all pregnancies in Scotland (excluding spontaneous miscarriages) currently end in abortion.
  • Annual abortion totals by selected years:
    2015 2010 2005 2000 1995 1990 1985 1980 1975 1970
    12,135 12,949 12,665 11,997 11,143 10,219 9,189 7,905 7,327 5,254
    2015 2010 2005 2000 1995
    12,082 12,948 12,665 11,997 11,143
    1990 1985 1980 1975 1970
    10,219 9,189 7,905 7,327 5,254
  • Total annual abortions in Scotland have increased 282% since 1969, the first full year that abortion was legal. The total number of annual abortions more than doubled between 1969 and 1972. There were 13,908 abortions reported in 2008, which is the highest total on record.
  • More than 535,000 abortions occurred in Scotland between 1968 and 2019.

Annual Abortion Statistics (Northern Ireland)2

  • In 2018, a reported 8 abortions took place in Northern Ireland.
  • Annual abortion totals by selected years:
    2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013
    8 12 13 16 16 23
    2018 2017 2016 2015 2014
    8 12 13 16 16
  • Annual totals for abortions performed on residents of Northern Ireland in England and Wales:
    2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010
    1,014 1,053 861 724 833 837 802 905 1,007 1,101
    2019 2018 2017 2016 2015
    1,014 1,053 861 724 833
    2014 2013 2012 2011 2010
    837 802 905 1,007 1,101

    In June 2017, the UK announced that it would fund abortions for residents in Northern Ireland. Prior to the announcement, women from Northern Ireland could access abortions in the rest of the UK, but would have to make their own arrangements and fund all aspects of the procedure.

WHO HAS ABORTIONS?

  • Among the residents of England and Wales, unmarried women accounted for 84% of all 2019 abortions.
  • Women in their 20s accounted for the majority of abortions in 2019; women aged 20-24 had the highest abortion rate.
  • Adolescents under 16 years obtained less than 1% of all 2019 abortions; women aged 16–17 years accounted for only 3%.
  • In 2018, 14% of all Scotland abortions were performed on women under 20, which is down from 25% a decade ago.
  • Percentage of 2019 Reported Abortions by Age of Mother (England & Wales):
    <16 years 16–17 years 18–19 years 20–24 years 25–29 years 30–34 years 35+ years
    1% 3% 8% 26% 25% 20% 18%
    <16 years 16–17 years 18–19 years 20–24 years
    1% 3% 8% 26%
    25–29 years 30–34 years 35+ years
    25% 20% 18%
  • Women with no prior abortions accounted for 60% of all abortions in 2019.
  • Among women who obtained abortions in 2019, 45% had never given birth.
  • Approximately 1% of the abortions that took place in England and Wales in 2019 were performed on non-residents. Of these 2,135 abortions 48% were performed on residents of Northern Ireland (1,014), 18% were performed on residents of the Irish Republic (375), and 8% were performed on residents of Scotland (179).

WHY DO ABORTIONS OCCUR?

Strictly speaking, elective abortion is not legal in Great Britain. Before an abortion can take place, two doctors must certify that the pregnancy is a threat to the life or health of the mother—or her children. As such, a medical reason is required for every abortion that takes place in the United Kingdom; doctors have seven reasons to choose from. In practice, the third reason (C), which states that continued pregnancy threatens the physical or mental health of the mother, has become the de facto response for elective abortion. In 2019, it was the statutory reason for 98% of all abortions among residents of England and Wales.

  • Less than .1% of 2019 abortions were performed to save the life of the mother.
  • Less than 1% of 2019 abortions were performed for the benefit of already-born children.
  • Less than 2% of 2019 abortions were performed because of fetal anomaly.

WHEN DO ABORTIONS OCCUR? (England & Wales)

  • Approximately 91% of 2019 resident abortions happened during the first trimester, prior to the 13th week of gestation.
  • In 2019, approximately 7% of all abortions occurred between 13-19 weeks' gestation; 2% occurred ≥20 weeks' gestation.
  • Percentage of 2019 Reported Abortions by Weeks of Gestation (England & Wales)*:
    ≤6 wks 7 wks 8 wks 9 wks 10 wks 11 wks 12 wks 13 wks 14-15 wks 16-17 wks 18-20 wks ≥21 wks
    42% 19% 14% 8% 3.6% 3.2% 2.5% 2.1% 2.2% 1.5% 1.3% 1.2%
    ≤6 wks 7 wks 8 wks 9 wks 10 wks 11 wks 12 wks
    42% 19% 14% 8% 3.6% 3.2% 2.5%
    13 wks 14-15 wks 16-17 wks 18-20 wks ≥21 wks
    2.1% 2.2% 1.5% 1.3% 1.2%

    *Gestational weeks are measured from the first day of the woman's last menstruation and not from the day of conception. Though it does not provide an accurate fetal age (which is roughly 2 weeks less than the gestational age), it is the simplest way for an OB/GYN to age a pregnancy since the day of conception is often not known. Hence, if an abortion occurs at 8 weeks gestation, it is actually aborting a 6 week embryo. The images on our Prenatal Development and Abortion Pictures pages are more precisely captioned with fetal ages in accordance with standard teaching texts on prenatal development.

HOW DOES ABORTION TAKE PLACE?

  • In 2019, 21% of resident abortions in England and Wales were performed by vacuum aspiration; 5% were performed by dilatation and evacuation.
  • Medical abortions made up 73% of all 2019 resident abortions in England and Wales.
  • In Scotland, medical abortions accounted for 86% of all abortions in 2018.
  • Approximately 24% of all 2019 resident abortions in England and Wales occurred in an NHS Hospital. The rest occurred in independent abortion clinics.

ABORTION AND PUBLIC FUNDS

  • In 2019, 99% of all resident abortions in England and Wales were paid for with public funds.

ABORTIONS BY LOCALITY (England & Wales) 

  • The table below shows total resident abortions and the resident abortion rate for various localities throughout England and Wales:
    Locality Total Abortions (2019) Abortion Rate (2019)*
    Cheshire and Merseyside 9,630 20.5▲
    Cumbria and North East 8,640 15.3▼
    Greater Manchester 13,015 21.6▲
    Lancashire and South Cumbria 5,638 18.6▲
    Yorkshire and Humber 18,098 16.4▲
    Central Midlands 15,772 17.8▲
    East Midlands 14,732 16.1▲
    North Midlands 11,323 19.7▲
    West Midlands 17,059 19.6▲
    London 44,213 21.4▲
    Hampshire Isle of Wight and Thames Valley 13,025 16.4▲
    Kent Surrey and Sussex 14,007 17.1▲
    South West North 6,962 14.2▲
    South West South 7,837 15.4
    Wales 9,476 16.1▲

    *The abortion rate is the number of abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44.

    ▲Indicates an increase in the abortion rate compared to the year prior.

    ▼Indicates a reduction in the abortion rate compared to the year prior.

This page was last updated on September 11, 2020. To cite this page in a research paper, visit: "Citing Abort73 as a Source."

    Footnotes

  1. In 2019, there were 640,370 births recorded in England and Wales, 51,308 births (2018) recorded in Scotland, and 22,829 births (2018) recorded in Northern Ireland.
  2. Annual health data for Northern Ireland spans portions of two calendar years. Their fiscal year begins on April 1. Annual abortion totals include the last nine months of the year listed and the first three months of the year following.

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