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Abortion

Volume 475: debated on Tuesday 6 May 2008

1. How many repeat abortions there were in (a) Kettering, (b) Northamptonshire and (c) England in the last three years; and if he will make a statement. (203357)

The number of repeat abortions in Kettering and Northamptonshire combined in the past three years was as follows: 508 in 2004; 546 in 2005; and 599 in 2006. The number of repeat abortions in England in the past three years was as follows: 56,645 in 2004; 58,068 in 2005; and 59,687 in 2006.

Are not those figures truly appalling? Given that a third of all abortions are repeat abortions, what steps will the Government take to bring down those horrendous figures?

We are working very hard to ensure that women have access to abortion services as soon as possible, because evidence shows that the risk of complications increases the later in the gestation. We have made investment to improve early access, and primary care trust performance in this area has been measured as part of the Healthcare Commission’s annual health check. The latest data for 2006 show that progress is being made to increase early access; some 65 per cent. of national health service-funded abortions took place at under 10 weeks.

Unfortunately, a good proportion of the numbers that the Minister has just given to the Chamber relate to teenage pregnancies—I believe that 19 year olds are the age group that has the highest number of abortions in the country. Could she tell us what she has done in the wake of last summer’s Government-funded advisory report entitled “Sex, Drugs, Alcohol and Young People”, which concluded that British teenagers were in the grip of a sexual health crisis fuelled by a “celebrity culture” that condoned alcohol abuse, drug addiction and promiscuity? Can she say what her Department is doing to tackle those three issues referred to in the report’s recommendations?

My hon. Friend raises a very serious issue in relation to teenage pregnancy, and, all across government, Departments must take responsibility for dealing with it. Of course, sex education and contraception are paramount, so that we do not have teenage pregnancies and their consequences, which affect not only the girl, but the family and all concerned for the rest of their lives.

I am sure the Minister would agree that the number of repeat abortions is extremely disappointing, bearing in mind the likely impact on the health of the ladies involved. She will also be aware—perhaps she will agree with me—that for some people the number of repeat abortions is a good reason to tighten up on abortion laws and deny women the right to choose. Does she agree with me that, while it is regrettable that there are so many repeat abortions, that should still be permissible?

Again, the hon. Lady raises very serious issues, which this House will be considering shortly and in respect of which it is always this House’s decision to make. We need to re-examine the role of contraception and, in particular, that of long-acting reversible contraception, which I know many primary care trusts are pushing—it is for all PCTs to examine that option. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidelines on long-acting reversible contraception show that if 7 per cent. of women switched from the contraceptive pill to long-acting methods, thus doubling the proportion of usage to 15 per cent., the NHS could save £100 million by reducing the number of unplanned pregnancies.

That might be all right for mature women, but does not the Minister share my concern that the giving out and the encouraging of the giving out of the morning-after pill to teenagers is an incentive, almost, to promiscuity?

I would have to disagree with the hon. Gentleman. This is such a complex and serious issue, and it is for parents, those in education and all Departments to address it. It is in all our hands to try to prevent teenage pregnancies and to provide help. As I mentioned, the consequences, not only for the young woman, but for her family and for the young father, must be taken into account. Fathers and young men should be taking much more responsibility than they do at present, but that can come about only with good, positive education.