Scotland’s abortion rate highest in decade amid surge in older women

More older women are having abortions in Scotland, with the overall number of terminations surging to a ten-year high.

Charity suggests older women may think they are unlikely to get pregnant.
Charity suggests older women may think they are unlikely to get pregnant.

Figures show 13,286 women aged 15 to 44 had abortions last year – a rate of 12.9 per 1,000.

The NHS Scotland Information Services Division report said the factors behind the recent increase were “not yet exactly clear”.

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The figures also showed rates for women in the most deprived areas remain about twice as high as those from the least deprived areas at 17.8 per 1,000 women aged 15-44 compared to 8.9.

Katherine O’Brien, spokeswoman for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service charity, said whilst abortion rates for younger women were falling, with under-20s down 49 per cent between 2007 and 2018, the rate for women aged 30 to 39 has risen by more than 10 per cent in the past year.

“We are concerned that constant warnings about the impact of age on fertility are leading some older women to take chances with their contraception under the misconception that they are unlikely to conceive,” she said.

“We need to ensure that the reproductive healthcare needs of all women are met and that the drive to decrease teenage pregnancies is not at the expense of their older counterparts.”

Also included in the statistics for the first time were the number of women from Northern Ireland, where abortion is illegal except in strict circumstances, accessing abortions on Scotland’s NHS.

This has been recorded following a change in the law in 2017, which researchers said “appears to have had very little impact”.

Fewer than ten women having terminations in Scotland gave a Northern Ireland residence address in 2018.

For the first time the figures include the number of women taking a drug to induce the second part of a two-stage medical abortion process at home.

Almost a third (30 per cent) of terminations were performed in this manner.

Ms O’Brien said the abortion rate in Scotland for 2018 was not “markedly higher” than the 12.4 per 1,000 in 2009 and remained lower than England and Wales.

Michael Robinson, from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children Scotland said the statistics were “deeply alarming”.

“Not only are we seeing a ten-year high, 13,286 abortions annually or the equivalent of 255 a week, we are once again seeing some of the most vulnerable women in society forced by circumstance to end the life of their unborn child,” he said. “Women deserve better than abortion and the right to life must be defended for every person.”