About this release

This release by Public Health Scotland (PHS) provides an annual update on Termination of Pregnancy Statistics to December 2020. These data are derived from the Notifications of Abortion to the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland (CMO) under the Abortion (Scotland) Regulations 1991. Information is provided by age, gestation, method of termination, NHS Board of residence and treatment, deprivation area, previous termination and ground(s) for termination. Some comparative data for England and Wales are also included. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is also assessed.

Main points

  • In 2020, the second highest number of terminations and the highest termination rate were recorded since the 1991 Regulations were introduced: 13,815 terminations (13.4 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44). This increase from the 2019 figure of 13,606 (13.2 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44) occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Ten years ago one in five terminations performed in Scotland were to teenagers. However, by 2020 this had reduced to just over one in ten. In contrast, the number and rate of terminations for women aged 25 and over has been steadily increasing and more terminations were reported in each of these age groups in 2020 than in any previous year.
  • Overall, there continued to be a strong and increasing association between deprivation and the rate of termination, with rates more than twice as high in women from the most deprived areas compared with those from the least deprived areas. In recent years, termination rates increased across most of the deprivation groups.
  • There was a noticeable deprivation effect, with women from the least deprived areas more likely to have a termination of pregnancy under 9 weeks gestation than women from the most deprived areas (84% and 79% respectively).
  • In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Scottish Ministers approved the patient’s normal place of residence in Scotland as a place where the first drug (mifepristone) could be administered. This change took effect from 31 March 2020. This was in addition to a previous approval from October 2017, allowing the second stage (misoprostol) of early medical abortions at home (EMAH) to be undertaken in a patient’s home. In 2020, 97% of all terminations were carried out medically (88% in 2019).

Percentage of medical terminations and the proportion of medical terminations where the second drug is taken at home, Scotland 2010 to 2020

Percentage of medical terminations  Stacked bar chart showing percentage of terminations performed medically in Scotland between 2011 and 2020. This proportion continued to rise and accounted for 97% of all terminations. From 2017 onwards the chart also shows the percentage taking the second drug (misoprostol) at home. Of these medical terminations 78% took the second drug at home in 2020, up from 49% in 2019.
  • Four in five terminations (81%) were performed at under 9 weeks gestation in Scotland, rising from 74.5% in 2019. This may have been influenced by the service changes due to COVID-19 impacts, and by a move to more terminations using the EMAH approach.

Background

An abortion can be induced (therapeutic) or spontaneous (miscarriage). The focus of this report is on induced abortions only. Also, induced abortions are referred to as terminations of pregnancy to avoid confusion with spontaneous abortions (miscarriages). PHS is responsible for the collation of data derived from notifications of abortions on behalf of the CMO.

Further information

More information can be found in the data files.

Open data from this publication is available from the Scottish Health and Social Care Open Data platform (external website).

The next release of this publication will be 31 May 2022.

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If you have an enquiry relating to this publication, please email phs.maternitystats@phs.scot.

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Older versions of this publication

Versions of this publication released before 16 March 2020 may be found on the Data and Intelligence, Health Protection Scotland or Improving Health websites.

Last updated: 14 July 2021
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