Hundreds of abortions recorded in Bedford as home treatment rules are relaxed

Availability of pill treatment during the pandemic is thought to be behind the rise

Thursday, 24th June 2021, 12:15 pm

Hundreds of women in Bedford had an abortion last year, figures show, amid a relaxation in rules around seeking treatment at home.

The availability of pill treatment for home abortions during the Covid-19 pandemic is believed to be behind a rise in procedures across England and Wales, say pregnancy experts.

A total of 618 abortions were reported in Bedford in 2020, Department of Health and Social Care figures show.

A total of 618 abortions were reported in Bedford in 2020, Department of Health and Social Care figures show
A total of 618 abortions were reported in Bedford in 2020, Department of Health and Social Care figures show

That was a fall of 1 per cent from the 622 recorded in 2019.

Across England and Wales, 209,917 abortions by residents were recorded in 2020 – a 2 per cent increase from 2019, when there were 207,384, and a record number since figures were first published.

The proportion of abortions which were medical, as opposed to surgical, increased from 73 per cent in 2019 to 85 per cent in 2020.

The increase is partly a result of a temporary change in Government policy which allows women to take the two pills, enabling an early abortion in their own home, the DHSC said.

Up until April last year, the first pill, mifepristone, had to be taken at a registered clinic or hospital.

A proposal to make the rule change permanent is under consideration.

The British Pregnancy Advice Service said home abortions had been "transformative" for women, adding that transport issues, job uncertainty and abusive relationships had previously led to some to obtain the treatment illegally.

Clare Murphy, chief executive of the group, said: "The increase in numbers may reflect the fact that as a result of early abortion at home becoming lawful, women no longer need to seek help outside regulated providers."

She added: "We didn’t need a pandemic to know that the ability to access early abortion at home would be transformative for women - particularly those in the most challenging circumstances.”

In Bedford, abortions were most common among those aged between 20 and 24, at a rate of 42 per 1,000 women in 2020.

The DHSC said it expected to make a decision on its proposal for home abortions later this year following a three-month consultation which ended in February.

A spokesperson added: "Safe and continued access to key services has been, and remains, our priority."