Shocking figures show teenagers have a quarter of abortions in Britain

Nearly a quarter of all abortions in Britain are carried out on girls under the age of 20, a major report has revealed.

The shocking figures, compiled by the EU, show British teenagers are far more likely than the average European youngster to have a termination.

Those who compiled the report called for greater access to contraception, ‘youth-friendly’ sexual health services and better sex education in schools.

Ignorance is bliss: Some argue that more sex education is needed in order to reduce the number of teenage abortions (Posed by models)

Ignorance is bliss: Some argue that more sex education is needed in order to reduce the number of teenage abortions (Posed by models)

But others said that such lessons, given to children as young as five, are clearly not working . They blamed the disproportionate number of teen abortions in the UK on a lack of independent counselling.

The data, compiled by the REPROSTAT group, the EU’s community health monitoring programme, details abortion figures across the region.

Most of the figures are for 2008, but the data is slightly older for several countries.

The report shows some 1.2million terminations are carried out a year – the equivalent of the populations of member countries Malta and Cyprus combined. Breaking the figures down by age reveals that 22.1 per cent of all abortions carried out in the UK in 2008 were on girls aged under 20 – only in Belgium was it higher.

The abortion rate among British girls under 20 was 23.8 per 1,000. Only Estonia and Sweden had higher rates, at 24.1 and 24.4 respectively.

The French figure stood at 15.6 per 1,000 girls under 20 and the German at 6.2 per 1,000.

How the countries compare

Of the countries which allow abortion, Poland, which has extremely tight legislation on the issue, had the lowest teen rate, of less than 0.1 per 1,000.

Greece, whose abortion laws are more similar to the UK’s, had the next lowest, with 2.3 terminations per 1,000 women under 20.

The average rate in the EU was 14.1 per 1,000, while overall, every ninth abortion in the region was carried out on a teenager.

Among women over 35, though, the UK had one of the lowest rates of abortion.

In 2008, 4.3 in every 1,000 women in that age bracket had an abortion, accounting for 14 per cent of the 209,191 terminations carried out here.

Worrying times: The UK carries out more teenage abortions than almost every other country in the EU (Posed by model)

Worrying times: The UK carries out more teenage abortions than almost every other country in the EU (Posed by model)

This compares with Estonia, with 13.2 abortions per 1,000 women aged 35 and over, and Latvia with a figure of 12.8.

Ireland and Malta were excluded from the calculations, as abortion is illegal there. There was no data for Luxembourg, Austria or Cyprus.

Writing in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, the researchers said that the fluctuations between countries cannot be explained away by abortions being easier to obtain in some than in others.

They added: ‘Teenage termination of pregnancy rates were higher in Northern European countries (17 per 1000 women aged 15–19 years) than elsewhere (10–11 /1000).

‘Thesehigher rates suggest a remaining unmet need for contraceptives among teenagers, even in countries with universal access to…health services.

Highteenage termination rates can be reduced by improved access to youth-friendly reproductive and sexual health services, better sexual education in schools, and free or heavily subsidised contraceptives.’

ButJosephine Quintavalle, of campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said: ‘There is no shortage of sex education or availability of contraceptives. It is pretty obvious it isn’t working.’

Trevor Stammers, a lecturer in medical ethics and former chairman of the Christian Medical Fellowship, said that abortion is ‘big business’ in the UK, with many terminations carried out at private clinics at the taxpayers’ expense.

He said that abortion is ‘actively encouraged’ by counsellors, many of whom are attached to clinics, rather than being fully independent.

He added: ‘We could cut the number of abortions by a third just by allowing women to exercise free choice, rather than making abortion such an easy or trivial matter.’

But the Marie Stopes International chain of clinics, which carries out almost a third of Britain’s abortions, said the figures reflect concerns that women are not able to get the contraception they need.

Spokesman Michael Tirrell said: ‘A key focus for us is making sure that clients visiting us for a termination do not need to use these services again – 70 per cent of clients who visit us for a termination leave with a reliable form of contraception.

‘We wholeheartedly agree with the study’s conclusion that youth-friendly reproductive and sexual health services and better sexual education in schools are needed… to reduce the number of unplanned teenage pregnancies in the UK.’

The Department of Health said that latest figures show teenage pregnancies to be falling.