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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

IF YOU ARE PREGNANT AND NEED HELP, visit the Pregnancy Choices Directory.

ANNUAL ABORTION STATISTICS

  • In 2017, approximately 206,880 abortions took place in Great Britain, up from 202,469 in 2016, 203,096 in 2015, 201,868 in 2014, and 202,746 in 2013.
  • Approximately 20% 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 2017, approximately 194,668 abortions took place in England and Wales, up from 190,406 in 2016, 191,014 in 2015, 190,092 in 2014, and 190,800 in 2013.
  • Between 1968 and 2017, close to 8.5 million abortions occurred in England and Wales.
  • 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
  • There were 679,106 live births in England and Wales in 2017, which means that approximately 22% of all pregnancies (excluding spontaneous miscarriages) currently end in abortion.
  • Total annual abortions in England and Wales have increased by 255% 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.

Annual Abortion Statistics (Scotland)

  • In 2017, approximately 12,212 abortions took place in Scotland, up from 12,063 in 2016, 12,082 in 2015, 11,776 in 2014, and 11,946 in 2013.
  • Between 1968 and 2017, more than 500,000 abortions occurred in Scotland.
  • Annual abortion totals by selected years:
    2015 2010 2005 2000 1995 1990 1985 1980 1975 1970
    12,082 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
  • Approximately 18% of all pregnancies in Scotland (excluding spontaneous miscarriages) currently end in abortion.
  • Total annual abortions in Scotland have increased 243% 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.

WHO HAS ABORTIONS?

  • Among the residents of England and Wales, unmarried women accounted for approximately 84% of all 2017 abortions.
  • Women in their 20s accounted for the majority of abortions in 2017; women aged 20-24 had the highest abortion rate.
  • Adolescents under 16 years obtained 1% of all 2017 abortions; women aged 16–19 years accounted for 11%.
  • Percentage of 2017 Reported Abortions by Age of Mother:
    <16 years 16–17 years 18–19 years 20–24 years 25–29 years 30–34 years 35+ years
    1% 3% 8% 27% 25% 19% 17%
    <16 years 16–17 years 18–19 years 20–24 years
    1% 3% 8% 27%
    25–29 years 30–34 years 35+ years
    25% 19% 17%
  • Women with no prior abortions accounted for 62% of all abortions in 2017.
  • Among women who obtained abortions in 2017, 45% had never given birth.
  • Approximately 2.5% of the abortions that took place in England and Wales in 2017 were performed on non-residents. Of these 4,809 abortions, 64% were performed on residents of the Irish Republic (3,092), 19% were performed on residents of Northern Ireland (919), and 3.9% were performed on residents of Scotland (187).
  • Whites, who make up roughly 80% of the population in England and Wales accounted for 78% of all resident abortions in 2017. Asians (6.8% of the population) accounted for 9%; blacks (3.4% of the population) accounted for 8%.

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 2017, it was the statutory reason for 98% of all abortions in Great Britain.

  • Less than 1% of 2017 abortions were performed to save the life of the mother.
  • Less than 1% of 2017 abortions were performed for the benefit of already-born children.
  • Less than 2% of 2017 abortions were performed because of fetal anomaly.

WHEN DO ABORTIONS OCCUR?

  • Approximately 90% of all 2017 abortions happened during the first trimester, prior to the 13th week of gestation.
  • In 2017, approximately 8% of all abortions occurred between 13-19 weeks' gestation; 2% occurred ≥20 weeks' gestation.
  • Percentage of 2017 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
    32.4% 19.4% 16.2% 8.8% 5.3% 4.4% 3.3% 2.7% 2.5% 2.0% 1.5% 1.8%
    ≤6 wks 7 wks 8 wks 9 wks 10 wks 11 wks 12 wks
    32.4% 19.4% 16.2% 8.8% 5.3% 4.4% 3.3%
    13 wks 14-15 wks 16-17 wks 18-20 wks ≥21 wks
    2.7% 2.5% 2.0% 1.5% 1.8%

    *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 2017, 28% of resident abortions in England and Wales were performed by vacuum aspiration; 7% were performed by dilatation and evacuation.
  • Medical abortions made up 64% of all 2017 resident abortions in England and Wales.
  • In Scotland, medical abortions accounted for 84% of all abortions in 2017.
  • Approximately 27% of all 2017 resident abortions in England and Wales occurred in an NHS Hospital. The rest occurred in independent abortion clinics.

ABORTION AND PUBLIC FUNDS

  • In 2017, 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, Warrington and Wirral 3,704 17
    Durham, Darlington and Tees 3,330 15▲
    Greater Manchester 11,850 20▲
    Lancashire 5,092 17▲
    Merseyside 5,152 20
    Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear 4,561 13
    North Yorkshire and Humber 3,003 13▲
    South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw 4,254 14▲
    West Yorkshire 8,099 17▲
    Arden, Herefordshire and Worcestershire 5,038 16
    Birmingham and the Black Country 10,570 20
    Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire 5,240 13▲
    East Anglia 5,954 13▲
    Essex 5,445 17▲
    Hertfordshire and the South Midlands 9,793 18▲
    Leicestershire and Lincolnshire 4,700 14▲
    Shropshire and Staffordshire 4,810 17▲
    London 41,447 20▼
    Bath, Gloucestershire, Swindon and Wiltshire 3,422 13
    Bristol, North Somerset, Somerset and South Gloucestershire 3,959 13
    Devon, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly 3,994 14▲
    Kent and Medway 5,683 17▲
    Surrey and Sussex 7,202 15
    Thames Valley 6,008 15
    Wessex 7,971 16▲
    Wales 8,578 15▲

    *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 November 15, 2018. To cite this page in a research paper, visit: "Citing Abort73 as a Source."

    Footnotes

  1. In 2017, there were 679,106 births recorded in England and Wales, 54,488 births recorded in Scotland (2016), and 23,075 births recorded in Northern Ireland.

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