Trend towards earlier gestational ages

Over many years, there has been a slow, steady increase in the proportion of abortions which occur at lower gestational age. The percentage of abortions at <10 weeks in 2009 was 75% and this had  risen to 82% by 2019.

Data released by the Department of Health and Social Care show these data in more detail for the first six months of both 2019 and 2020.

2019 Q12019 Q22020 Q12020 Q2
3 – 636%40%43%57%
7 – 943%42%41%32%
10 – 20+21%18%16%11%

In Q2 2020, we can see that during the COVID-19 lockdown provisions for abortion at home, there was a notable increase in the percentage of total abortions occurring at less than 10 weeks gestational age, though this trend had started in earlier years.

More interesting is the trend towards abortions at GA of less than 7 weeks.

There’s little doubt that abortion at early gestational ages is, for most women, a safer and less traumatic procedure. Though as we’ve seen in the news this week, this does not apply to all women; read about Sophie’s traumatic experience of her early medical abortion here and here.

What’s driving this trend? Is it due to improved awareness as more women use period-tracking apps, or is it a factor of the increasing trend towards medical abortion, which has less delay in waiting times compared to the clinic-based surgical procedures?

There’s no doubt that waiting times are reducing and that abortion is happening earlier in the gestation. Whilst some are celebrating this as a significant advance in women’s healthcare, another perspective might be that women are making this decision too quickly. A week or so of delay to take more time for client-centred counselling and consideration of other options would have very little impact on the time-sensitive safety elements associated with the abortion procedure, but could have a valuable impact for some women who are considering a termination.


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