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Fertility and Abortion

When do women actually want to have children?

In contrast with previous generations, many women today delay having children, allowing other career, economic or social prospects to take priority. The average age of marriage in the UK is now 31 for women (up from 25 in 1991 and 23 in 1981).* The average childbearing age is now 29.5 (up from 23 in 1968).**

Many women will have an abortion when they are at the height of their fertility in their 20s (74% of abortions are undertaken by women aged 29 or under***). A woman’s fertility begins to decline after the age of 30, and reduces dramatically after the age of 35.**** In contrast, though the quality of their sperm can decline, men still retain a much higher level of fertility into their 40s, 50s, and even 60s.

On the post-abortion course we observed that women are surprisingly ill informed about their fertility prospects after the age of 30. The fact that they will be dramatically less fertile after their mid-thirties often comes as a complete surprise. Many either do not appear to understand the fragility of fertility, or choose to ignore its implications. Perhaps there is an assumption that IVF or other fertility treatment will provide options later in life but, for the majority of women with low fertility who wish to become pregnant after the age of 35, these treatments will not be successful.***** Media stories about older mothers can also give a false impression, as these situations are not the norm.

The sad reality is that some women will abort the only child they will carry in their lifetime. For many, by the time they realise this, it is too late to do anything about it. The same is less likely for men of the same age who retain their fertility for longer and have the option of being a parent with a younger partner.

On our course, some of the women who had an abortion in their 20s were concerned about their fertility in their 30s. It seemed to us that abortion can sometimes shift the long-term balance of power in a relationship towards men, who effectively retain a veto on all reproductive decisions, and thus dictate the pace of the couple’s relationship and lifestyle.

For some women, far from giving them control over their lives, it seems that abortion can leave many exposed to childlessness in the long term. It can be heart-breaking for women who had an abortion in their 20s to be unable to conceive later in life. Were women on our courses to offer advice based on their experience, many would say that agreeing to an abortion to suit the timescale of a man can be disastrous. It’s a question of women planning when they DO want to have children and insisting on this when it is wanted, rather than just being prepared to terminate an unwanted pregnancy to suit the timescale of a man.


*Office for National Statistics, 2011. Marriage, Divorce and Adoption Statistics 2010. London: Office for National Statistics.

**Utting, D. and Bewley, S., 2011. Family Planning and Age-Related risk. The Obstetrician & Gynaecologist 2011, 13: 3541.

***Office for National Statistics, 2010. Abortion Statistics, England and Wales 2010. London: Office for National Statistics. [In 2010, 139,510 women aged 29 or under had an abortion of a total 189,574.]

****Utting, D. and Bewley, S., 2011. Family Planning and Age-Related Risk. The Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, 2011, 13: 35–41. [At the age of 25, just 5% of women take longer than a year to conceive and this rises to 30% in women aged 35.]

*****Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, 2011. Fertility Treatment in 2010, Trends and Figures. . London: Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. [The overall success rate for IVF in the UK is approximately 34%.]