29 June 2015
Latest abortion statistics raise questions for everyone
David Smyth, public policy officer Northern Ireland
Every year the Department of Health publishes a range of national statistics. Among them is a brief report on the number and nature of abortions carried out in England and Wales. The 2014 statistics have just been published and raise some very important questions for everyone.
First though, abortion can be extremely polarising so it's important to state how we attempt to approach the issue as sensitively as possible. At the outset we reject any dichotomy which pitches the rights of a woman against her unborn child. Even in the extremely difficult circumstances where the law is being looked at in Northern Ireland we recognise their joint humanity and pursue policies which protect the life, health and well-being of both.
The law in Northern Ireland occupies this difficult space well, protecting the life and health of the woman and her unborn child as far as possible. There is definitely room for improvement though when it comes to pregnancy crisis care and we support tailored pathways of care for each woman, child and family involved.
Here are some numbers from the report and some comments:-
184,571 - Total number of abortions in England and Wales in 2014. This is 0.4per cent less than 2013 and 0.6 per cent less than 2014. Although any reduction is better than a rise, the figures remain alarming. This equates to 505 abortions every day of the year.
1:4 – Ratio of abortions to live births in England and Wales. The raw number of abortions is huge but it is also important to understand the culture. In 2013 (latest year for statistics on live births) there were 698,512 live births in England and Wales and 185,311 abortions. This is a ratio of one abortion for every four children born (more accurately 1:3.769). In 2012, the World Health Organisation stated that in Europe 30 per cent of all pregnancies end
in abortion. The risk of death decreases dramatically for children when they leave the 'safety' of their mother's womb.
1:28 - In 2012/13 there were 51 abortions carried out in Northern Ireland and 802 abortions in England to women resident in Northern Ireland. In 2013 there were 24,277 live births in Northern Ireland. This ratio of total abortions to Northern Irish women 853:24,277 can be simplified to 1:28.46. This is statistically significant. The UNFPA seeks to 'reducerecourse to abortion' – it is clear that Northern Irish law along with excellent healthcare provision, education and access to contraceptives does this effectively. Ideologically it may be helpful for some to frame Northern Ireland as backwards and regressive because of our abortion laws, however the evidence does not support these claims.
37 per cent - Repeat abortions. In 2014, 37 per cent of abortions were for women who had already had one or more abortions. This rose to 45 per cent of abortions being repeat when women were aged 25 or over. It is clear that in practice a culture of abortion as a 'reproductive right' has developed.
67 per cent - Percentage of abortions which took place in the 'independent' sector. The outsourcing of the ending of human life poses significant ethical questions. Especially when the organisations offering such 'services' offer women 'independent' pre-abortion counselling and are paid for every abortion.
81 per cent - Percentage of abortions carried out for single women. Many inferences could be drawn from this figure and more data would be required. Statistically though it's clear that an unborn child conceived in marriage in England and Wales is four times less likely to be aborted than outside of marriage. The importance of marriage between a man and a woman as a unique relationship in society with a vital bond to child-bearing is again
98 per cent - The number of abortions carried out under ground C (the pregnancy has not exceeded its 24 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). Of this 98 per cent, almost all (99.93 per cent) were recorded as being performed because of a risk only to the woman's mental health.
662 –The number of unborn children who were aborted because of their risk of having Down's syndrome. In England and Wales, nine out of 10 babies are aborted when there is a diagnosis of Down's syndrome. What message does this send to those with a disability in our culture? How does this improve human rights, equality or services and support for those living with a disability or for parents?
10–The number of abortions in 2014 where cleft lip and cleft palate were identified as the 'handicap' and 'principle' reason for the abortion. Cleft lip and cleft palate also featured as a reason in a total of 29 abortions. (Personally I have a cleft lip and palate and have never (a) considered myself to have a 'handicap', (b) been legally identified as having a 'handicap', (c) been entitled to claim for any disability benefits from the state who would, in England and Wales, have facilitated my unborn death because of this 'handicap').
8–The number of abortions in the past 10 years carried out under grounds F&G (F to save the life of the pregnant woman and G to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman). These grounds are almost identical to the circumstances where abortion is permitted in Northern Ireland. To be clear, this are eight abortions out of approximately two million abortions over a 10-year period.
22 –The number of weeks gestation beyond which the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommends that 'feticide' is used for abortions. The method of feticide is usually an injection to stop the heart of the unborn child beating. The unborn child is killed in this direct procedure specifically to make sure 'there is no risk of a live birth' which is deemed to be too distressing for those involved. In 2014, of the 1,193 abortions carried out at 22 weeks, 58 per cent involved feticide and a further 37 per cent were performed using a procedure whereby the foetal heart was stopped as part of the procedure.
132 –The number of 'reductions' –This euphemism describes 'selective' abortions to end the lives of one or more unborn children when a woman is carrying more than one child and 'the outcome of the pregnancy may be more successful if the number of foetuses is reduced.' This means ending the life of a twin or one or two triplets etc while leaving others to be born. This practice raises huge ethical questions about the humanity of those in the womb.
837 –The number of abortions carried out for women resident in Northern Ireland. A further 23 abortions were carried out in Northern
Ireland in 2013/14. The total is 850 (compared to a total of 853 last year).
40 million –This is the number of abortions carried out each year worldwide as estimated by the WHO and Guttmacher Institute for sexual and reproductive health. The same institute estimated that there were 47,000 maternal deaths from unsafe abortions in 2008.
From abortion on demand to child-commissioning on demand.
It is evident from these statistics that there exists a culture and practice, medically and legally, of abortion on demand in England and Wales. At the same time a culture and practice, medically and legally, has developed of child-commissioning on demand. This is evidenced very well in the case of Kyle Casson –'The father who became the brother of his own son'. A single man commissioned a baby using his own sperm, a donor egg and his own
mother as a surrogate. Although this man was not in a relationship with anyone, he was able legally and medically to 'create' his own child. This was legally and medically facilitated. He was simply a consumer who consumed child-commissioning services. These are subject to the market and to equality laws. In fact abortion 'services' and the act of child-commissioning are becoming even more consumerised through the modern lens of equality, customer choice and bodily autonomy. This in turn raises huge medical, legal and ethical questions for culture. The human child's life has moved from being seen as a gift (whether from God or nature) to a product which comes with a right to be
acquired and conversely a right to be disposed of. My language here is not designed to offend and I fully appreciate the trauma and agony involved in the decision at times to seek an abortion or to seek IVF. My point is that when procreation is redefined from a relationship to a right, to 'reproductive medical services' which can be bought and sold, the child becomes the 'product' and is subject to consumer choice. In the marketplace, profit, competition and innovation means the 'product' will evolve and no customer can be discriminated against by having 'services' refused.
These statistics and the prevailing cultural reality in Great Britain raise a number of important questions:-
1. How can we have a society-wide conversation about the future of crisis-pregnancy care and access to child-commissioning services? May I suggest the whole conversation around procreation needs to be moved back to the framework of relationships and away from a narrow lens of human rights and equality law which fails to recognise all of the lives involved.
2.How can Christians respond compassionately and with redemptive grace to those individual human lives affected in a pregnancy crisis? How can Christians respond truthfully to the lies about the choice of abortion being the most 'progressive' and 'compassionate' response in a pregnancy crisis?
3.These issues are all about social justice, intergenerational relationships, human dignity, the most vulnerable and even the future of humanity. Where are the social justice advocates who are willing to take reputational risks on this controversial issue?
4.How can public campaigning against abortion help to develop and link into an effective anti-consumerist discourse?