Pill scare drives abortions to record

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A LONG-TERM crisis of confidence in oral contraception, sparked by the Pill scare three years ago, has led to the highest level yet of legal abortions in the UK, according to new government statistics.

In 1998, abortions reached 14 per 1,000 women of childbearing age, compared with 12 per 1,000 just before the October 1995 Pill scare. The rate was 8 per 1,000 in 1971. Abortions were decriminalised in 1968.

There was national concern when seven of the most popular, newer brands of the Pill were found to be twice as likely to cause dangerous blood clots as older, cheaper brands. Users were advised to switch brands, but many immediately stopped using contraception, resulting in a rash of unplanned pregnancies and terminations.

Latest government statistics suggest the problem has not gone away, with a 4 per cent increase in abortions in the last three months of 1998 compared with the same period the year before. The increase has been across all age groups.

Karen Dunnell, editor of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) bulletins, said yesterday: "There is a general feeling, perhaps, that the Pill scare caused a crisis of confidence in methods of contraception. It may be why slightly larger numbers of women are deciding to use abortion."

Analysis published yesterday also revealed a mortality crisis for the thirty-something generation. Although the death rate has been decreasing for generations, it has stopped falling for people in their twenties and thirties. For some groups of men, death rates were higher in 1994-96 than they were 10 years ago. Drug and alcohol dependence has led to a higher incidence of mental disorders, the researchers said. The problem is compounded by deaths from Aids and high suicide rates. One in four deaths among men in their twenties is a suicide.

For women, breast and cervical cancer deaths are decreasing. But deaths from digestive problems - particularly due to alcohol - are hitting women in their early thirties. Mortality rates have improved least among women aged 30-34.

Statistics also showed thatGPs had heeded advice from the British Thoracic Society on treating asthma with inhaled steroids rather than drugs that tackle the symptoms alone.

Dr Seeromanie Harding reported a range of statistics proving you are more likely to die younger if you are unemployed or poor. People who experienced more than one period of unemployment had higher death rates than those who remained employed. People raised in children's homes and men placed in detention or psychiatric centres had a considerably higher risk of ill-health and premature death.

The ONS has previously published evidence of the high mortality rates of Irish migrants in England and Wales. New figures confirm a mortality rate, even among second-generation Irish migrants, 20 per cent higher than of all other people in England and Wales.