LONDON, JULY 29, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Official data for 2005 show a slight increase in abortion for England and Wales. The total number of abortions on women resident in the two areas was 186,416, compared with 185,700 a year earlier, a rise of 0.4%, according to information published July 4 by the Department of Health.
In addition, last year there were 7,937 abortions for non-residents of England and Wales, mostly women from Ireland, which takes the overall total for the year to 194,353. The great majority of abortions, 89%, were carried out before 13 weeks gestation; 67% were before 10 weeks. There were 137 abortions carried out for pregnancies beyond the 24th week.
Overall, the abortion rate was 17.8 per 1,000 resident women aged 15-44. In terms of age distribution the abortion rate was highest, at 32.0 per 1,000, for women in the 20-24 age group.
The government, through the National Health Service, paid for 84% of abortions carried out in 2005. The majority, 79%, were carried out on single women, a proportion that has been on the rise since 1995, when it was at about two-thirds.
"The high percentage of abortions -- 66% -- within the first nine weeks of pregnancy is clear evidence, if any were needed, that abortion is provided on demand in the UK," said Julia Millington of the ProLife Alliance. "And the marked increase in the number of early abortions make[s] it difficult to regard this as anything other than abortion being treated as a method of contraception," she added in her reaction to the data in a press release July 4.
Another concern raised over the figures regards abortions carried out on young girls. In 2005 there were 1,083 abortions performed on girls under age 15. The Department of Health grouped together the statistics for the last three years regarding abortions on girls under age 14. In 2003-2005, there were 33 abortions performed on girls under age 13, and 409 abortions on girls aged 13.
"It is shameful that the government should promote secret abortions for girls under the age of consent and insist that their parents aren't told," said John Smeaton, national director of the Society for the Protection for Unborn Children (SPUC).
Smeaton decried the pressure on doctors to maintain strict secrecy regarding abortions for young girls. In a SPUC press release dated July 5, Smeaton stated: "The Department of Health wrongly claims that health professionals are required by law and by their professional code of conduct to provide children under the age of 16 the same confidentiality as people over the age of 16."
The official figures also revealed that 1,900 abortions were under "ground E" of the law, which permits abortion if there is a risk that the child would be born handicapped. The Department of Health revealed that chromosomal abnormalities were reported for about 39% of cases under ground E, and congenital malformations in about 45%.
Down syndrome represented 22% of all ground-E cases and was the most commonly reported chromosomal abnormality. Some of the data for ground-E cases was not released on an annual basis, due to the small numbers involved. In the years 2003-2005, there were 11 abortions with a principal medical condition of the congenital malformations cleft lip and/or cleft palate.
The issue of abortions in the case of cleft palates received widespread attention in 2004, when Anglican cleric Joanna Jepson took the police to court in an unsuccessful effort to bring to justice doctors responsible for the abortion of a 28-week-old unborn baby with the condition.
Another notable item detailed in the statistics was the level of women who have more than one abortion. In each year of the 2003-2005 period, 32% of women undergoing abortions had one or more previous abortions. This proportion has risen from about 28% since 1995.
Increase in Scotland
Statistics recently released also show abortion on the rise in Scotland. A total of 12,603 abortions were carried out in 2005, the BBC reported May 24. This was 142 more than the previous year, and is the highest level since abortion was legalized in 1967. Some 3,304 abortions were carried out on women and girls under 20, and of these 341 were for girls under 16.
Commenting on the data in the Sunday Times on May 28, Katie Grant observed that abortion continues to increase despite all the millions of pounds spent on sex education programs, and despite contraception being freely available. Abortion, she noted, "is no longer being used as a last resort but is increasingly treated as just another form of contraception."
The official reaction to abortion does not help the situation, added Grant. All the government does is to promote more and more explicit sex education and to hand out ever greater numbers of condoms, she commented. This ignores the emotional scars of abortion on young girls. "Indeed," Grant observed, "it could be argued that encouraging a girl under 16 to have an abortion is a particular type of abuse."
In the face of high levels of abortion, calls have been made for a change in the law. In June, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor did just that when he met with the secretary of state for health, Patricia Hewitt. The archbishop of Westminster told Hewitt that it was time for Parliament to review the 1967 Abortion Act amid mounting concerns at the frequency and number of abortions, according to an archdiocesan press release dated June 21.
During the meeting the cardinal cited opinion polls showing that most women in Britain want the law tightened to make it harder to terminate a pregnancy.
"This is not primarily a religious issue," stated Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor. "It is a human issue. Abortion is the wrong answer to fear and insecurity. As a society we need to look at ways of supporting women who find themselves in an unplanned pregnancy.
"People know, perhaps instinctively, that the goodness of a society is known not by its wealth but by the way which it treats the most vulnerable of human beings, the ones with little or no claim on public attention."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he would support a debate on the law on abortion because he is "troubled" by the current legislation, the Sunday Times reported June 18. Blair's view on the issue came after a private meeting held Scottish Catholic leader Cardinal Keith O'Brien.
Nevertheless, "The government has no plans to change the law on abortion," said a spokeswoman for the Department of Health, according to a June 21 report by the BBC.
On July 3 the BBC reported that more than 60 British members of Parliament have signed a Commons motion backing a review of the abortion law, given the scientific and medical changes since it was drawn up in 1967. Phil Willis, chair of the science and technology committee in the Commons, said the issue should be looked at again, warning it was unwise to ignore changing circumstances.
In the meantime, efforts by activists to use some of the more graphic tactics common in other countries to protest abortion have run into legal obstacles. Edward Atkinson, a 74-year-old pro-life campaigner was jailed for four weeks after sending "offensive" pictures of mutilated fetuses through the mail, reported the Independent newspaper on May 8. The photos showed severed limbs and a fetus without its head.
The target of the photos, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, also punished Atkinson, by removing him from a waiting list for a hip replacement. Showing people the graphic results of laws that allow the killing of hundreds of thousands of unborn babies is, it seems, too much for British sensibilities.