Rise in number of abortions recorded in Hertfordshire reflects national picture

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The latest available figures show there nearly 800 more abortions recorded in Hertfordshire than the previous year – as the number hit a record high across England and Wales.

Abortion provider MSI Reproductive Choices said it believes cost-of-living pressures and a lack of access to contraception through stretched NHS services are both "playing a bigger role" in decisions to have an abortion.

The latest Department of Health and Social Care figures show there were 4,759 abortions for residents of Hertfordshire in 2022 – up from 4,010 the year before and an increase from 3,506 in 2012.

Of the abortions in 2022, 137 were for under-18-year-olds.

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Experts say the rise is due to inadequate access to contraception. Photo: Gareth Fuller PAExperts say the rise is due to inadequate access to contraception. Photo: Gareth Fuller PA
Experts say the rise is due to inadequate access to contraception. Photo: Gareth Fuller PA

There were a total of 251,377 abortions for women in England and Wales in 2022.

This was the highest number since the Abortion Act was introduced almost 60 years ago and a rise of 17 per cent on the 2021 figure, the department said.

MSI said its own numbers show a rise of 27 per cent in people turning to its clinics for abortion care in 2023, and a further 22 per cent increase in the first quarter of this year.

Dr Sarah Salkeld, the charity's UK associate clinical director, said: "With so many women around the country experiencing inadequate access to contraception, it’s no surprise that abortion figures are rising.

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"Greater demand and finite resources for GPs and sexual health clinics are leaving women at risk of unintended pregnancy at a time when families are struggling to make ends meet.

"These pressures disproportionately impact those on the lowest incomes, meaning those hardest hit by the cost-of-living crisis are often more likely to experience an unintended pregnancy in the first place."

Regional figures show a significant gap in the rate of abortions for the most and least deprived residents of the East of England.

There was a rate of 27.8 abortions per 1,000 women considered the most deprived, compared to 14.6 per 1,000 for the least deprived.

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The British Pregnancy Advisory Service said findings from their survey of over 1,300 women this month suggested financial factors had either mainly or partly impacted the decision to end a pregnancy for 57 per cent of respondents.

Additionally, 36% said they had been unable to get the contraception they wanted or had faced delays, leading to unwanted pregnancies and subsequent abortions.

Heidi Stewart, Bpas chief executive, said they had heard ‘heartbreaking’ stories from women under financial pressure.

She said: "The cost-of-living crisis has placed immense strain on women and families, with too many having to choose between financial stability and having a baby."

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She added women have also told the service they face long waits for contraceptive appointments, are refused specific contraceptive methods, and experience limited options for non-hormonal birth control.

"No woman should become pregnant because healthcare services are failing to provide women with the contraception they want and need, when they need it," she said.

She called on the next government to curb the cost of living and make childcare more affordable, as well as focusing on women’s health to improve access to contraception.

MSI additionally called for "accurate, non-stigmatising information", especially for younger people, describing "inclusive, evidence-based sex and relationships education" as being "more important than ever".