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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 (England and Wales) and National Services Scotland. Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland. The following information has been gleaned from both 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 2018, a reported 218,581 abortions took place in Great Britain, up from 209,976 in 2017, 202,520 in 2016, 203,148 in 2015, and 201,870 in 2014.
  • Approximately 23% 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 2018, a reported 205,295 abortions took place in England and Wales, up from 197,533 in 2017, 190,406 in 2016, 191,014 in 2015, and 190,092 in 2014.
  • Approximately 24% 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 275% since 1969, the first full year that abortion was legal. The total number of annual abortions more than doubled between 1969 and 1971. There were 205,598 abortions reported in 2007, which is the highest total on record.
  • More than 8.6 million abortions occurred in England and Wales between 1968 and 2018.

Annual Abortion Statistics (Scotland)

  • In 2018, a reported 13,286 abortions took place in Scotland—up from 12,443 in 2017, 12,114 in 2016, 12,134 in 2015, and 11,778 in 2014.
  • The number and rate of Scotland abortions reached a ten-year high in 2018.
  • Approximately 21% of all pregnancies in Scotland (excluding spontaneous miscarriages) currently end in abortion.
  • Fewer than ten women from Northern Ireland had an abortion in Scotland in 2018.
  • Annual abortion totals by selected years:
    2015 2010 2005 2000 1995 1990 1985 1980 1975 1970
    12,134 12,948 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 274% 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 520,000 abortions occurred in Scotland between 1968 and 2018.

WHO HAS ABORTIONS?

  • Among the residents of England and Wales, unmarried women accounted for 84% of all 2018 abortions.
  • Women in their 20s accounted for the majority of abortions in 2018; women aged 20-24 had the highest abortion rate.
  • Adolescents under 16 years obtained less than 1% of all 2018 abortions; women aged 16–19 years accounted for 7%.
  • In 2018, 14% of all Scotland abortions were performed on women under 20, which is down from 25% a decade ago.
  • Percentage of 2018 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% 17%
    <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% 17%
  • Women with no prior abortions accounted for 61% of all abortions in 2018.
  • Among women who obtained abortions in 2018, 44% had never given birth.
  • Approximately 2% of the abortions that took place in England and Wales in 2018 were performed on non-residents. Of these 4,687 abortions, 61% were performed on residents of the Irish Republic (3,092), 23% were performed on residents of Northern Ireland (1,053), and 4% were performed on residents of Scotland (171).

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 2018, it was the statutory reason for 98% of all abortions among residents of England and Wales.

  • Less than 1% of 2018 abortions were performed to save the life of the mother.
  • Less than 1% of 2018 abortions were performed for the benefit of already-born children.
  • Less than 2% of 2018 abortions were performed because of fetal anomaly.

WHEN DO ABORTIONS OCCUR? (England & Wales)

  • Approximately 91% of 2018 resident abortions happened during the first trimester, prior to the 13th week of gestation.
  • In 2018, approximately 7% of all abortions occurred between 13-19 weeks' gestation; 2% occurred ≥20 weeks' gestation.
  • Percentage of 2018 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
    38.6% 19.6% 14.7% 7.5% 4.4% 3.5% 2.8% 2.2% 2.3% 1.7% 1.4% 1.4%
    ≤6 wks 7 wks 8 wks 9 wks 10 wks 11 wks 12 wks
    38.6% 19.6% 14.7% 7.5% 4.4% 3.5% 2.8%
    13 wks 14-15 wks 16-17 wks 18-20 wks ≥21 wks
    2.2% 2.3% 1.7% 1.4% 1.4%

    *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 2018, 24% of resident abortions in England and Wales were performed by vacuum aspiration; 5% were performed by dilatation and evacuation.
  • Medical abortions made up 71% of all 2018 resident abortions in England and Wales.
  • In Scotland, medical abortions accounted for 86% of all abortions in 2018.
  • Approximately 26% of all 2018 resident abortions in England and Wales occurred in an NHS Hospital. The rest occurred in independent abortion clinics.

ABORTION AND PUBLIC FUNDS

  • In 2018, 98% 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 (2017) Abortion Rate (2017)*
    Cheshire and Merseyside 9,301 19.7
    Cumbria and North East 8,677 15.4
    Greater Manchester 12,534 20.8
    Lancashire and South Cumbria 5,520 18.2
    Yorkshire and Humber 17,393 15.8
    Central Midlands 14,991 16.9
    East Midlands 12,222 15.7
    North Midlands 10,660 15.5
    West Midlands 15,928 18.4
    London 43,805 21.1
    Hampshire Isle of Wight and Thames Valley 12,562 15.7
    Kent Surrey and Sussex 13,398 16.3
    South West North 6,722 13.9
    South West South 7,842 15.4
    Wales 9,053 15.4

    *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 August 21, 2019. To cite this page in a research paper, visit: "Citing Abort73 as a Source."

    Footnotes

  1. In 2018, there were 657,076 births recorded in England and Wales, 51,308 births recorded in Scotland, and 23,075 births (2017) recorded in Northern Ireland.

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