The number of abortions carried out in England and Wales since the start of the coronavirus pandemic increased by 4.1 per cent compared with the same period last year.
Between January and June 2020 there were 109,836 abortions compared with 105,540 over the first six months of last year. Over the whole of 2019 there were 207,384 abortions carried out in England and Wales, the highest number since the Abortion Act was introduced in 1967.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Government introduced temporary legislation to allow women easier access to medical termination in their own homes.
The sharpest rise occurred in April, the first full month of lockdown, with more than 4,500 more abortions compared with the same month last year – 20,546 compared with 16,006 in 2019.
But in May and June 2020, there were fewer abortions compared with the same months of 2019.
The statistics, which were published by the Department of Health and Social Care on Thursday, showed that 86 per cent of terminations were carried out at less than 10 weeks in the first six months of 2020.
Almost half of all abortions in the first half of 2020 were conducted before seven weeks gestation, up from about 40 per cent in the previous year.
Medical abortions, where the woman is given two oral medications to end the pregnancy, accounted for 82 per cent of the total between January and June 2020, up by 10 per cent over the same period last year.
Before lockdown, women were required to attend a clinic for the first phase of a medical abortion, but on March 30 the Government introduced temporary legislation to allow the first medicine to be administered at home and in the homes of medical practitioners.
At-home medical abortion accounted for a third of procedures between April and the end of May, increasing to 51 per cent of medical terminations in June.
Dr Jonathan Lord, medical director for women’s health charity Marie Stopes UK, said: “Waiting times have reduced significantly, easing the distress of an unwanted pregnancy and reducing the already low complication rate even further.”
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) also considered the statistics to be positive.
Clare Murphy, BPAS deputy chief executive, said: “These figures illustrate that access to abortion care has been one of the few healthcare success stories of this pandemic, with women able to obtain the help and support they need earlier in pregnancy.”
But anti-abortion organisation Right to Life UK criticised what it termed “DIY abortions” and called the rise in terminations “a national tragedy”.
Right to Life spokeswoman Catherine Robinson said: “This year we’ve come together as a nation and made great sacrifices to protect the vulnerable from Covid-19. Sadly, at the very same time as protecting one group of vulnerable people, we as society have also ended thousands of young vulnerable lives through abortion.”