Why are abortion numbers rising in Scotland?

Statistics released by Public Health Scotland (PHS) show that the number of abortions carried out in Scotland in 2023 -18,207 - was the highest number on record.

Scotland’s record abortion numbers are being driven by the cost-of-living crisis, a women’s healthcare provider has said, with women “feeling pressured by circumstance to end pregnancies”.

Statistics released by Public Health Scotland (PHS) show the number of abortions carried out in Scotland in 2023 (18,207) was the highest on record. This represents an increase of 1,600 abortions – nearly 10 per cent – in one year, with numbers increasing from 16,607 in 2022 to 18,207 last year.

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A spokesperson for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said the cost-of-living crisis was driving the increase.

A woman taking 'at-home' abortion medication. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said the cost of living crisis is impacting the rates of abortion in Scotland.A woman taking 'at-home' abortion medication. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said the cost of living crisis is impacting the rates of abortion in Scotland.
A woman taking 'at-home' abortion medication. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said the cost of living crisis is impacting the rates of abortion in Scotland.

“Abortion rates are rising across the UK and beyond, and increasing numbers of women are telling providers that the cost of living is having a particular impact on their decisions,” the spokesperson said.

“Women must always have the choice to end a pregnancy if they want it. But we should also listen to what national statistics are telling us about the pressures facing women and families across Scotland – and government should work to ensure real reproductive choice where no woman feels pressured by circumstance to end a pregnancy she would otherwise have wanted to continue.”

According to PHS, “there continues to be substantial variation” in termination rates in different parts of Scotland. In 2023, NHS Lanarkshire had the highest termination rate of any health board.

“The gap in termination rates between women living in most and least deprived areas continued to widen as rates in the most deprived areas rose faster than in the least deprived areas,” the PHS report reads.

“This may represent inequity in access to earlier prevention of unplanned pregnancy through reliable contraception services.”

A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson, described the number as “a great 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.

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Ms Robinson said the rise has “accompanied” the third full year that at-home abortions services had been available in Scotland, which Right To Life lobbied against. She called for the “urgent reinstatement” of in-person appointments for home abortions.

The rise in abortions in Scotland has coincided with an increase in the number of women travelling to England for abortions at later gestation stages.

In 2023, 68 women travelled from Scotland to England for second trimester abortions. In 2021 and 2022, that number was 42 and 65 respectively.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said it “completely understands the concerns raised” regarding women travelling to access abortion services.

“National Services Scotland has done significant work to consider the available delivery options for this service, and a short-life working group has been established to consider these alongside NHS boards,” the spokesperson said.

“The Scottish Government is committed to establishing a service within Scotland once an agreement can be reached with health boards on the best way forward. All women should be able to access essential services, such as contraception and abortion care, in a timely, safe and equitable manner.”

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