Recently a set of statistics released in the United Kingdom has created quite the unexpected firestorm. According to the Telegraph, information from the National Health Service (NHS) shows a significant jump in the number of repeat abortions occurring in England and Wales. According to the NHS, 36% of all abortions performed in 2011 were performed on women who had already had at least one abortion. That is a total of 68,105 women, which is a 2% increase from 2010 when the number stood at 64,303. This is the largest jump in the number of repeat abortions in one year.
Repeat abortions in the U.K. have been rising steadily since 2000. Although the figures show that the total number of abortions performed in the United Kingdom has dropped slightly over the last four years, the number of women having multiple abortions has grown. Michaela Aston, of the British pro-life group LIFE, commented, “We should be shocked and concerned by these latest statistics, especially given the apparent decline in overall conception rates in 2011, which means the proportion of all pregnancy that end in abortion has risen considerably.”
Though the fact that more than a third of abortions are repeats is sobering, what seems to have sparked the sharpest response from the British public is the breakdown of these numbers. 13.9% of teenage abortions were to girls who had already had a previous abortion. 485 of these girls underwent the procedure for the 3rd time while three were having their seventh abortion. In 2011, 19% of 18-19 year olds and 7% of those under 18 getting an abortion were having a repeat abortion.
A 2009 study by the University of Nottingham revealed that the number of repeat abortions among teenage girls throughout Britain rose 68% between 1991 and 2007. In those same years, the number of teenage girls in the city of London getting multiple abortions rose 63%, according to a 2010 research report.
Additionally, 76 women above the age of 20 obtained their seventh abortion in 2011. It is estimated that the NHS spends £1 million on repeat abortions each week. The 2011 abortion statistics also indicate that the NHS pays for 96% of abortions in the United Kingdom.
Ann Furedi of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, eschewing talk of making abortion rare, remarked, “There is no ‘right’ number of abortions above and beyond ensuring that every woman who needs to end an unwanted pregnancy can do so, and that obstacles are not put in the way of her accessing supportive services as quickly as possible.”
If these numbers seem high to British ears, they may be surprised to learn that 50% of all abortions in the United States are repeat abortions. It should perhaps be an occasion for pause when a 36% repeat abortion rate stirs the British public and media but a 50% figure in America is accepted with complacency. At the very least it should make clear that abortion is not a rare occurrence even where distribution of drugs like the morning after pill has been liberalized to the point of ubiquity. If anything, abortion and morning-after dosing have become a form of birth control and, for many, a pattern of behavior.