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Issues - Abortion - Teenage abortions

Published on 29/06/2004
More than four in 10 pregnancies among young women aged 15 to 17 end in abortion – but huge variations exist across the UK, according to a report out today.

Fewer than one in five (18%) conceptions in the Derwentshire district of County Durham ended in the pregnancy being terminated.

But in Eden in Cumbria, three out of four (76%) conceptions resulted in an abortion.

The study, carried out for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, found fewer abortions were carried out in the most socially disadvantaged areas, even though these were places with the highest rates of conceptions in those under the age of 18.

The authors, from the Centre for Sexual Health Research at the University of Southampton, said teenagers’ choices were based on their personal situation at the time they became pregnant rather than their moral views on abortion.

Those young women who saw their lives as insecure were more likely to accept motherhood as a positive change.

But those who saw their lives developing through education or employment were more likely to choose to end the pregnancy.

The study looked at abortion and pregnancy data among 15-17-year-olds between 1999 and 2001.

The researchers found that 44% of conceptions in this age group ended in termination.

As well as Eden, the highest abortion rates were found in Epsom and Ewell (74%), Rochford in Essex (72%) and the Mole Valley in Surrey (70%).

After Derwentshire, the lowest percentages of abortions were seen in Torridge in Devon (27%), Merthyr Tydfil (28%) and Ashfield, Notts, (30%).

In Scotland, where the figures are collected differently, variations in abortions among young women aged 13 to 19 ranged from 49% in Grampian to 32% in Shetland.

The researchers found that motherhood at an early age was more acceptable and “normal” in some neighbourhoods.

Interviews with 100 teenagers found that all those who chose an abortion had found it stigmatising, and many thought they should keep their plans secret from parents.

Some young women said that they had found doctors’ attitudes upsetting when they voiced disapproval of teenage pregnancy and abortion.

The researchers found that abortion rates were higher in areas with more extensive family planning services, where there were more women GPs and where women had easier access to independent abortion services.

Ellie Lee, co-author of the report, said: “When an unplanned pregnancy occurs, it is clear that most young women perceive the outcome as first and foremost their decision.

“Yet the evidence shows that their views are shaped by factors that include social deprivation, the attitudes of family and friends and the accepted ’norms’ of behaviour in the communities where they live.”

Ms Lee said they would like to see more initiatives that helped raise the expectations of young mothers, especially with education and future careers.

“At the same time we believe that young women who choose abortion should have their choice respected and have better access to services of a more consistent quality than currently exists.

“Abortion needs to be de-stigmatised and the case made more strongly for viewing it as a morally acceptable aspect of reproductive health care and family planning,” she added.

Roger Ingham, director of the Centre for Sexual Health Research, said: “Young women have fairly positive experiences of medical services, but there are areas where improvement is needed.

“These include access to second trimester procedures and more sympathetic and caring treatment of young women during consultations and when the abortion procedure takes place.”

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