Figures confirm Pill scare abortion rise

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Indy Politics
A sharp rise in the abortion rate after the health scare over the contraceptive pill will be revealed in official figures to be released on Thursday, raising fresh criticism of ministers over their handling of the affair.

The number of abortions leapt by 6.7 per cent in November in the aftermath of the 1995 Pill scare, but the latest figures are expected to show a further worrying increase as the full impact begins to be felt.

The release of the abortion statistics by the Government will be coupled with a report by the Government's expert advisory body, the Committee on the Safety of Medicines, which is expected to stand by the action which led to the scare.

Stephen Dorrell, the Secretary of State for Health, who will face questions today in the Commons, was criticised for "bungling" the release of the warnings about seven contraceptive pills linked with a higher incidence of thrombosis in October 1995.

The CSM was criticised by the World Health Organisation for the way the information it passed on about the possible link between the contraceptive Pill and thrombosis was released in Britain.

But ministers bore the brunt of the criticism for their handling of the crisis which led to GPs being flooded with inquiries, and claims that women had suffered unwanted pregnancies because they had stopped taking their contraceptives.

Chris Smith, Labour's spokesman for health, said last night: "We have already seen an alarming rise in the number of abortions carried out after some brands of the Pill were withdrawn in October 1995. "The main culprit is the Government, which bungled the announcement and failed to ensure that GPs and family planning professionals had the news before the public did. As a result many women - unable to get through to their doctor - simply stopped taking the Pill altogether. I fear that the new figures will show a further rise."

The advisory committee made it clear that women should continue to take their contraceptive pill, until they were able to see their doctor or visit their family planning clinic. However, many women panicked after the warnings that they may be at risk.

The criticism of ministers was increased because the warnings were leaked, before GPs had been informed. Mr Dorrell defended his role, stressing that the advisory committee had advised there was "an urgent need to communicate the new evidence and appropriate recommendations to the professions and to the public prior to publication of the evidence".

The figures for the first quarter of 1996 showed a 2,688 rise in the number of abortions to a total 42,990 - the highest number since 1990. The latest figures cover the period April to July last year, which could spell out the human tragedy for women who told doctors the unwanted pregnancies had ruined their lives.

The issue is also likely to highlight the campaign by the Pro-life Alliance, which is threatening to field more than 50 anti-abortion candidates in the election.