There were 209,917 abortions in England and Wales last year, the highest number since the Abortion Act was introduced in 1968, according to statistics released by the Department of Health and Social Care today. This was despite an extended lockdown caused by Covid-19.
The abortion rate in 2020 was highest for women aged 21.
The official statistics reveal that the number of Irish women travelling to England for abortions declined from 375 in 2019 to 194 in 2020.
In addition, there were 693 abortions where a baby was recorded as having Down Syndrome, an increase of 6% from 2019, although this may be an underestimate.
Under the current law, abortion is allowed up to birth if a baby has a disability.
The campaigning group Don’t Screen Us Out said the actual numbers are probably higher than reported due to under-reporting on disability abortion statistics. A 2013 review showed 886 abortions for Down Syndrome in England and Wales in 2010 but only 482 were reported in official Government figures. The underreporting was confirmed by a 2014 Department of Health and Social Care review.
The group says the private availability of early cfDNA testing (otherwise known as NIPT) is likely already leading to an increase in the numbers of children with Down Syndrome being screened out by abortion.