A quarter of all pregnancies in England and Wales now end in abortion, official data revealed today.
The figure is the highest since records began in 1990, and marks the first time it has ever breached the 25 per cent mark.
Around 207,000 of the 821,000 pregnancies conceived in 2019 were terminated, the Office for National Statistics said.
Teenage abortions hit their highest level ever, with almost two-thirds of conceptions terminated among under-16s.
But rates increased across the board, including among women in their 30s and 40s — the only age groups where conception rates are higher than they were a decade ago.
Women are increasingly putting off starting a family in their twenties when they are more fertile, often delaying motherhood to focus on their careers.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) data released today shows a record 25 per cent of pregnancies conceived in 2019 were terminated
Separate Department of Health figures show some 210,860 abortions were carried out in England and Wales last year.
It suggests the figure — which has co-incided with a drop in conception rates over the past decade — will continue to rise.
Over-40s have bucked the trend, however, with rates of older women giving birth having tripled since the 1990s.
The proportion of women in their late 30s becoming mothers has nearly doubled across the same time-frame.
The ONS figures today suggest the rise was actually driven by younger age groups, with the proportion of abortions in people aged 40 and over only increasing from 30.3 per cent to 30.8 per cent.
For comparison, the proportion increased from 35 per cent to 37.3 per cent in people aged 20 to 24 and 21.4 per cent to 22.5 per cent in people aged 25 to 29.
The total number of abortions in girls aged under 16 were at their second lowest since last year, with 1,522 occurring in both countries. It was a slight increase on the year before (1,487).
Regionally, abortions were highest in London, where they made up 28.1 per cent of the 156,716 pregnancies in the capital — 44,037.
Pregnant women are urged to get a jab as new data shows just one in ten have had one
Pregnant women have been urged to get jabbed as new data shows just one in ten have come forward.
Health chiefs said rates of Covid hospitalisations are rising rapidly among unvaccinated mothers-to-be.
Public Health England data shows that so far 51,724 pregnant women in England have received at least one dose, and 20,648 women have had two.
Around 600,000 women in the UK are pregnant, meaning less than ten per cent have been jabbed.
Since April, pregnant women have been eligible for the vaccine at the same time as the rest of their age group.
But uptake remains low and health chiefs are concerned about rising admissions for Covid among pregnant women.
Some 95 per cent of the pregnant women in hospital with Covid last week were unvaccinated.
Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: ‘It is brilliant to see so many pregnant women coming forward for their Covid vaccines, ensuring they protect themselves and their baby from this awful virus.
‘While uncommon, severe illness from Covid is more likely in later pregnancy and infection increases the risk of a premature birth.
‘The Covid vaccines are one of the best defences against infection, preventing at least 11.7 million infections in England alone.’
It was followed by the North West (27.4 per cent), North East (24.1 per cent) and East Midlands (23.9).
The lowest abortion rate was in the East of England, where 22.8 per cent of the 83,785 pregnancies were terminated.
Lambeth in south London had the highest rate, with 36.8 per cent, followed by neighbouring Southwark (33.8 per cent) and Liverpool (33.3 per cent).
Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Devon had the lowest rates, with 18.3 per cent, 19.3 per cent and 19.8 per cent respectively.
The ONS said: ‘The percentage of conceptions leading to a legal abortion among all women in England and Wales increased from 24 per cent in 2018 to 25.2 per cent in 2019, the second year in a row this has increased for all age groups.’
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service said the data reflected a broader shift toward later motherhood and smaller families.
Clare Murphy, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said: ‘As women are choosing to start and complete their families later in life, they spend a greater proportion of their most fertile years trying to avoid pregnancy.’
Conception rates fell among all age groups under 40. Since 2013, the total fertility rate has fallen steadily to 1.65 children per woman in 2019, a 2.9 per cent decrease from 2018.
Ms Murphy continued: ‘There are a variety of reasons why women are choosing to delay motherhood and have smaller families – these include financial instability, desire to progress at work, and the ever-increasing cost of raising a child.
‘It may well be that the Covid pandemic will further accelerate these trends.
‘Women try hard to avoid unplanned pregnancy and no method of contraception is 100 per cent effective, nor suited to all women. All methods can have unwanted side-effects.
‘Abortion is an important back-up so women can make the decisions that are right for them and their families, and we need to ensure access is as straightforward as possible.’
Pro choice charity Abortion Rights highlighted the role online video consultation for abortions — a temporary provision during the Covid pandemic — in helping women who needed early terminations.
Abortion Rights Chair Kerry Abel said: ‘The case has been made for keeping abortion telemedicine, full stop.’
The charity argued the service needs to continue to be provided after the pandemic ends.
A spokesperson said: ‘The proportion of abortions that are performed at under 10 weeks has continued to increase, according to national statistics released today.
‘In 2020, 88 per cent of abortions were performed under 10 weeks, increasing from 82 per cent in 2019. In 2020, there were 209,917 abortions for women resident in England and Wales.
‘371 people from Northern Ireland travelled to England for abortions in 2020, a significant decrease from the 1,014 in 2019.
‘It is shocking that, during a global pandemic, more than one person per day from Northern Ireland was forced to travel for abortion healthcare due to inadequate provision at home.’