Abortions rise by 8 per cent after contraceptive pill scare

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The number of abortions rose last year - the first increase in five years - following the 1995 contraceptive pill scare.

Family planning experts called for a review of contraceptive services saying that the consequences of the Pill scare had been exacerbated by the poor state of family planning services.

In 1996, 177,225 abortions were carried out in England and Wales, a rise of more than 13,500, or 8.3 per cent on 1995, according to the Office for National Statistics. The largest increase was among NHS patients (11.5 per cent) rather than privately funded abortions (1.5 per cent).

The overall abortion rate for women resident in England and Wales was 13 abortions per 1000 women aged 14-49 compared to the mid-1995 rate of 12.

The Pill scare in October 1995 followed a government warning that the newer "third generation" pills carried a small but increased risk of causing blood clots. Ministers and the Committee on the Safety of Medicines were attacked by doctors over the warning and the way it was put out, with some doctors hearing about it from the media and unable to counsel or advise their patients.

Women inundated helplines, surgeries and family planning clinics to try to get more information with many simply stopping taking their contraception.

Anne Weyman, chief executive of the Family Planning Association, said: "This is the first annual increase after five years of falling figures. We are very concerned about this rise. Although the Pill scare is a contributing factor it cannot be held solely to blame."

She said there should be an urgent review of current family planning services to determine whether they are meeting women's demands. "An increase after years of falling rates shows that many women are not getting the help and support they need in this area."

Nuala Scarisbrick, a trustee of the pro-life charity Life, said: "The surge in teenage abortion must be due above all to the `value-free' sex education and the pernicious influence of the media to which the young are exposed and which undoubtedly encourage them to be sexually active. When will the Government see that we have got it badly wrong and admit that the condom culture increases the amount of teenage pregnancy and abortion, as well as sexually-transmitted disease?"

Brendan Gerard, of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said: "Public reaction to abortion cases over the past year indicates that more people than ever are disturbed by the widespread practice of abortion virtually on demand."

9 Legal abortions in England and Wales in 1996, ONS Monitor AB97/4 ONS; pounds 4.