Friday, 20 June 2008

Abortions rise for under-16s

I'm intrigued by reports in today's papers of a 10% increase in abortions for under-16s. This is seen as a sign that the Government's strategy to cut teenage pregancies has failed. But none of the reports mention how many teenagers gave birth during the same period. So couldn't the stats just mean that more under-16s are opting for terminations rather than choosing to give birth? (The Guardian quotes someone as saying that the under-18 pregnancy rate - which presumably includes all pregnancies, whether they end in terminations, miscarriages or births - has fallen to its lowest level for 20 years, but implies that this isn't true for under-16s, 'though no stats are given).

This reminds me of one of the chapters in 'Freakonomics', on the perceived success of 'zero tolerance' policing in New York in the 1990s, which is generally seen to have triggered a massive drop in the crime rate. The book suggests instead that the real reason was the the landmark Supreme Court decision in Roe-v-Wade in 1973, which, in legalising abortion, meant that far fewer unwanted babies were born in the sort of circumstances that might later lead them into a life of crime. An interesting issue for the anti-abortion lobby to grapple with.

As for me, yes of course I find it disturbing that 163 girls under the age of 14 had abortions last year, and 1,008 14 year olds. But isn't that preferable to them becoming mothers at such a young age?

The more positive element in these statistics is confirmation that the vast majority of abortions take place at a very early stage of pregnancy - 70% within 3 to 9 weeks, and a further 20% within 10 to 12 weeks. I suppose some people could argue that the easy availability of early terminations could encourage women to treat it as a form of contraception, but again, still better than lots of unwanted babies being born to girls who are too young to cope. And I really don't believe that women have unprotected sex thinking, well I can always have an abortion if the gamble doesn't pay off.

On a related point, I had a very moving email from a constituent recently, who'd had a late termination because the baby was found to have very severe abnormalities. Obviously I'm going to keep her details confidential - but I wish some of those who campaigned so vociferously for the time limit to be cut to 20 weeks could read her very personal account of the agonisingly difficult decision she'd had to make, terminating a pregnancy she had very much wanted.

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