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Latest UK Abortion Statistics 2021

Introduction

This page details key abortion statistics for England, Wales and Scotland from 2021, the most recent data that is available. Statistics for Northern Ireland are currently not reported on, except when abortions are carried out in HSC hospitalsi. The UK Department for Health collates abortion statistics for England and Wales, however in Scotland abortion law is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, so statistics are kept separately by Public Health Scotland. In Northern Ireland, abortion law is likewise devolved.

Abortion statistics for England and Wales, released on 21st June 2022, are at a record high at 214,869 abortionsii. In Scotland, statistics released on 31st May 2022 show that 13,758 abortions took place in 2021iii, a slight reduction from the 13,896 abortions in 2020. In total, 228,627 abortions were recorded in Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) in 2021, which means that an average of 626 abortions happened each day in 2021 in GBiv. Since the Abortion Act (1967) was passed, until the end of 2021, almost ten million (9,833,746) babies have been killed in abortions in GB. A recent study estimated that around 73 million babies are killed globally by abortion each year.v

The legal grounds for abortion are listed at the end of this article.

All percentages below are listed to either 3 significant figures or a maximum of 2 decimal places, where source data is sufficiently accurate. Due to rounding, percentages may not total 100%.

Key Statistics for England and Walesvi

  • There was a total of 214,869 abortions in 2021, including non-residents. The vast majority of these abortions (214,256) were to residents of England and Wales. This is an overall increase of 4,009 from 2020 and the highest number recorded.
  • 42.6% of women undergoing abortions had had one or more previous abortions, a rise from 87,926 in 2020 to 91,313 in 2021. This represents 3,387 more repeat abortions than in 2020, an increase of 3.85%.
  • There were 1,125 abortions to girls aged under 16 
  • Of these, 321 were to girls aged under 15
  • There were 3,370 disability-selective abortions in 2021

    • 859 of these were for Down’s syndrome, an increase of 24.0% from 693 in 2020.
    • 40 of these were for cleft lip and cleft palate, an increase of 14.3% from 35 in 2020.
    • 274 took place after 24 weeks, a 19.7% increase in late term abortions from 229 in 2020.
  • There were a total of 2,686 abortions carried out at 20-week gestation and over
  • There were a total of 276 late term abortions (24-week gestation and over)
  • 88 "selective termination" procedures were performed, where a twin, triplet or more were aborted in the womb, an increase from 65 in 2020.
  • 98.5% of abortions are funded by The Department of Health. The number of abortions funded by the NHS performed by private abortion providers such as BPAS and Marie Stopes, was a record high of 165,400 (77.2%).
  • 87.3% of abortions were medical abortions (186,976)
  • 12.7% of abortions were surgical abortions (27,280)
  • Complications were reported in 330 out of 214,256 cases in 2021; a rate of 1 in every 649 abortions (1.5 per 1,000 abortions), which is an increase from 2020 (1.2 per 1,000), and 2011 (1.0 per 1,000). The rate of surgical complications increased from 1.9 in 2020 to 4.9 in 2021.
  • Since the Abortion Act (1967) was passed, until the end of 2021, over nine million (9,270,639) babies have been killed in abortions.

Abortion numbers by grounds for residents of England and Wales:vii

  • 98.0% (actual number 209,939) abortions were performed under ground C
  • 0.390% (actual number 836) abortions were performed under ground D 
  • 1.57% (actual number 3,370) abortions were performed under ground E 
  • 0.0518% (actual number 111) abortions were performed under grounds A, B, F and G

Most of the overall increase in the number of abortions is the result of ground C abortions increasing. 

The vast majority (99.9%) of abortions carried out under ground C alone were reported as being performed because of a risk to the woman’s mental health. These were classified as F99 (mental disorder, not otherwise specified) under the International Classification of Disease version 10 (ICD-10). 

There were 565 (16.8%) ground E abortions at 22 weeks and over and 274 (8.13%) ground E abortions at 24 weeks and over.

Key Statistics for Scotlandviii

  • There was a total of 13,758 abortions in 2021, including non-residents.The vast majority of these abortions (214,256) were to residents of Scotland. This is a slight reduction from the 13,896 abortions in 2020.
  • The rate in the most deprived areas was almost twice as high as in the least deprived areas of Scotland.
  • The abortion rate for Scotland was 13.4 per 1000 women aged 15 to 44, which is lower than the rate of 19.2 for England and Wales.
  • 39.1% of women undergoing abortions had had one or more previous abortions, a rise from 5,056 in 2020 up to 5,374 in 2021. This represents 318 more repeat abortions than in 2020, an increase of 6.3%.
  • There were 98 abortions to girls aged under 16.
  • There were 184 disability-selective abortions in 2021.
    • 30 of these were for Down’s syndrome, a decrease of 36.2% since 2020
    • 127 took place after 18 weeks, a 13.6% decrease from 147 in 2020.
  • There were 5 abortions done because the mother’s life was at risk, 0.04% of the total number of abortions.
  • 99.4% of abortions were medical abortions (13,676)
  • 0.60% of abortions were surgical abortions (82)
  • Since the Abortion Act (1967) was passed, until the end of 2021, over half a million (563,107) babies have been killed in abortions.ix

Abortion numbers by grounds for Scotland:

  • 98.6% (actual number 13,565) abortions were performed under ground C
  • 1.3% (actual number 184) abortions were performed under ground E 
  • 0.05% (actual number 5) abortions were performed under ground A
  • No abortions were performed under grounds B, D, F and G.

Gestation Period

The legal limit for a woman having an abortion is 24 weeks gestation. Abortions may be performed after 24 weeks in certain circumstances, for example, if the mother’s life is at risk or the child would be born severely disabled. There were 276 abortions performed after 24 weeks in 2021.

Method of Abortion

Early medical abortions are defined as taking place within the first 10 weeks of the pregnancy using two abortion pills. 

From 30 March 2020 for England, the 31 March 2020 for Wales, and the end of March for Scotland, temporary measures were put in place to limit the transmission of COVID-19 by approving the use of both pills for early medical abortion at home, without the need to first attend a hospital or clinic. These were made permanent in Wales from 24 February 2022. On 30 March 2022, Parliament voted in favour of an amendment to the Health and Care Bill, making the temporary approval allowing home use of both pills for early medical abortions permanent in England and Wales. Likewise, home abortions continue in Scotland.x

Full or partial home abortions are now the most common procedure, accounting for 149,993 abortions (70.0%) to residents of England and Wales, and 11,249 abortions (81.8% of total) in Scotland.

Medical abortions overall accounted for 87.3% of abortions to residents of England and Wales, and 99.4% of all abortions in Scotland.

Information about the two main methods of abortion, medical and surgical, can be found here.

Statutory Grounds for Abortionxi

Under the Abortion Act 1967, which applies in England, Wales and Scotland, a pregnancy may be lawfully terminated by a registered medical practitioner in approved premises, if two medical practitioners are of the opinion, formed in good faith, that the abortion is justified under one or more of grounds A to G:

Ground A:

That the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman greater than if the pregnancy were terminated (Abortion Act, 1967 as amended, section 1(1)(c))

Ground B:

That the termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman (section 1(1)(b))

Ground C:

That the pregnancy has NOT exceeded its 24th week and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman (section 1(1)(a))

Ground D:

That the pregnancy has NOT exceeded its 24th week and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of any existing child(ren) of the family of the pregnant woman (section 1(1)(a))

Ground E:

That there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped (section 1(1)(d))

Ground F:

To save the life of the pregnant woman (section 1(4))

Ground G:

To prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman (section 1(4))

Footnotes

Northern Ireland termination of pregnancy statistics 2020/21, Department of Health (Northern Ireland) (link)
ii Abortion statistics for England and Wales: 2021, UK Government (link)
iii Termination of pregnancy statistics, Public Health Scotland (link)
iv Data collated from sources already referenced (link and link).
v Unintended pregnancy and abortion by income, region, and the legal status of abortion: estimates from a comprehensive model for 1990-2019, National Library of Medicine (link)
vi Source already referenced (link)
vii Explanatory note: Data on complications should be treated with caution. It is not possible to fully verify complications recorded on HSA4 forms and complications that occur after discharge may not always be recorded. This means that for medical terminations where either both or the second stage was administered at home, complications may be less likely to be recorded on the HSA4. The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) is currently undertaking a project to review the system of recording abortion complications data to address this going forward.
viii Source already referenced (link)
ix In addition to post-2011 data included in the 2021 publication, pre-2012 data is taken from: Abortion Statistics, Public Health Scotland (link).
x Early medical abortion at home - future arrangements: consultation analysis, Scottish Government (link)
xi Abortion Act 1967, UK Government (link)

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