Abortions have reached the highest level ever in the UK, as new data reveals that 200,000 women had their pregnancies terminated last year.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) published figures today revealing that there were 200,608 abortions for women in England and Wales in 2018. This marked an increase of 4% or 192,900 from the previous year. A further 4,687 abortions were carried out on non-residents in 2018.
Experts said that the increase was as a result of older women and mothers being more likely to have abortions.
Clare Murphy, director of external affairs at abortion provider the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said: "The reasons for the increase in abortions for older women in England and Wales are complex.
"Accessible contraceptive services are often focused on the needs of younger women and women over the age of 25 can in particular find themselves excluded from schemes providing free, pharmacy access to emergency contraception.
"As so many women in the UK rely on pills and condoms as their main methods of contraception, it is vital that there is swift access to emergency options when those methods fail or a pill is missed."
She said greater access to services was also needed for women who are already mothers.
"Unplanned pregnancy in the year after birth is not uncommon, particularly among women who are breastfeeding," she said.
"However, it is also possible that over the longer term couples are making different decisions about family size and the number of children they can afford and feel able to properly care for.
"The two-child benefit cap was designed to influence reproductive decision-making and we are certainly aware of cases where that has been a factor in a woman's decision to end a third, unplanned pregnancy."
However, anti-abortion activists said that the latest abortion data represented a “national tragedy”.
Clare McCarthy, spokeswoman for the Right to Life charity, said: "Every one of these abortions represents a failure of our society to protect the lives of babies in the womb and a failure to offer full support to women with unplanned pregnancies.
"Proposals from abortion campaigners to remove legal restrictions around abortion and introduce abortion right to birth would likely see these numbers get even worse."
There has been a sharp rise over the last decade in the proportion of abortions to women who are already mothers.
In 2018, 56% of abortions (111,633) were to women who had had one or more previous pregnancies that resulted in a live or stillbirth, up 5% on the 106,550 the previous year.
Less than half (48%) of abortions in 2008 were to women who had already had one or more previous births. Overall abortion rates have increased in the last decade for all women over the age of 25. The rates for women aged 30 to 34 increased from 15.6 per 1,000 women in 2008 to 19.9 in 2018.
Among those aged 35 and over, they have risen from 6.7 per 1,000 women in 2008 to 9.2 per 1,000 women in 2018.
In total, 34,380 women aged 35 and over had an abortion in 2018, up 6% on the 32,330 the year before. The data also showed there were 1,267 abortions to girls aged under 16 (0.6% of the total) in 2018.
Of these, 363 were to girls aged under 15 (0.2% of the total). Overall, the abortion rate among under-18s has been falling for a decade.
Nola Leach, chief executive at Christian Action Research and Education (CARE), added: “The fact that the abortion rate for women 35 or over has increased again since last year raises big questions about the pressures of modern life.
“The instability of cohabitation and the intense pressure for couples to maintain two incomes are taking a heavy price.
“It’s time we ended the culture where abortion is seen as the only option. Women need to be supported and informed about the wide variety of alternative out there.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are committed to maintaining a safe and caring environment for all women who need an abortion. It is encouraging to see that the number of women under 18 having abortions has fallen – however we do want to better understand why rates in other age groups are increasing and we are monitoring this trend closely. We are looking at ways to increase access to contraception, which will be set out in PHE’s reproductive health action plan to be published this year.”