Iain Dale’s maths shames bloggers

Yep, another day, another Tory and another half-arsed commentary on the subject of abortion.

Abortion Figures Shame This Country

Question: How many babies were born in the UK in 2006?
Answer: 635,679

Wrong, even after the efforts of one of two people in the comments boxes to sort out a proper figure.

The number of birth in England and and Wales in 2006 was 669,531 (source: National Statistical Office), to which we must add the figure for Scotland, the provisional figure for which are 55,690 (source: General Register Office for Scotland) and that for Northern Ireland, which are again provisional (if one can safely use that particular word in respect of Ulster) and which give a figure of 23,272 (source: NISRA)

Total number of births for the UK =  748,493

Question: How many abortions were carried out in 2006?
Answer: 194,000 (up 4% since 2005)

Actually its 193,700 – the 200,000 figure quoted by the Daily Mail includes 7-800o women from the Irish Republic who don’t count towards UK statistics.

This means that nearly one in three four babies conceived in this country is aborted. Let me repeat that. One in three four babies conceived in this country is aborted.

Iain is either channeling Foghorn Leghorn or Fred Elliot here, but regardless of repetition and crossings out, the actual figure is tad over 1 in 5 (20.55% to be precise) and natural miscarriages don’t count towards birth/abortion statistics.

This is a statistic which I found profoundly shocking and at first did not believe.

Why? The National Statistical Office publishes abortion stats annually, you just have to go and look them up – their site even has a search facility.

What on earth does it say about our broken society that so many living beings are aborted? Surely even those who are pro-choice are also shocked at these statistics?

No, Iain. Not really, but then I’m not easily shocked and make a point of keeping myself informed on subjects in which I’ve shown an interest (and blogged) – there are considerably more important things to consider than whether people are ‘shocked’ by the UK’s abortion statistics and standing around gawping in horror at a few numbers on a page is fuck all use to anyone.

In an ideal world there would be no abortion, but we do not live in that world and never will.

Well, at last we do agree on something.

Those of us who adopt a pro-life attitude must recognise that we cannot roll back the clock and shouldn’t try to. We have to be pragmatic, but that does not stop us trying to understand why the abortion rate in this country is so much higher than in most others, and then doing something about it. The question is, what.

Actually the ‘higher than most others’ claim is not really true. Britain’s abortion rate is higher than several other European countries, including Norway, Denmark, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Greece, Eire, Finland, Belgium and the Netherlands – although one has to be careful in relying too heavily on comparisons with Catholic countries in that list, which will show a lower rate of abortions because access to abortion is far more restricted that this country.

Britain’s rate is, however, broadly on a par with France, Japan and the Czech Republic, slightly lower than Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the US, Sweden, Hong Kong, Singapore, and substantially lower than large swathes of Eastern Europe. (source: this page for the table of rates be country and this page for access to a good collection of relevant statistics and maps)

That aside, the real problem with Iain’s position is this:

We have to be pragmatic, but that does not stop us trying to understand why the abortion rate in this country is so much higher than in most others, and then doing something about it. The question is, what.

No, the question is still why -what comes later when you understand why these abortions are taking place, based on reliable evidence and valid research data, of which there is a distinct lack in Iain’s post.

The consequences of this cart before the horse approach are all too evident in Ian’s first update:

UPDATE 2.52pm: As I expected, this has provoked a lot of comments, some insightful, others prejudiced. One describes what I have written as inflammatory. I’d like to know how. Some people don’t seem to actually read what I write before venting their spleens. So let’s be clear. All I was doing with this post is asking why we are in this situation and what we can do about it. Read what I actually said rather than what you think I said. I did not say we should ban abortion. I did not even say we should restrict abortion. All I said was that we need to examine why these figures are so high in comparison with other countries and I then questioned what we should do about it. What on earth is there to object to in that?!


What kind of half-wit asks questions like ‘why are there so many abortions?’ and ‘what can we do about it?’ on a blog and then expects rational answers that make sense?

If you want answers try searching for some proper research on the subject, like this paper on reasons why US women have abortions, or this paper, from the University of Southampton, on second trimester abortions in the UK, both of which answer questions about the why of abortion in considerably more depth and detail than anything one might glean from Dale’s usual collection of comment box trolls.

UPDATE: It has been pointed out to me that there are 250,000 miscarriages a year. So if you add them to the babies born and babies aborted you get 1.1 million conceptions, so the actual ratio of babies aborted to babies conceived is nearer 1 in 5 or 1 in 6.

Well it is about 1 in 5, but as mentioned earlier, miscarriages don’t count for statistical purposes – you’ll actually find them in the general stats for medical conditions, illness and mortality rates, not in births/abortions.

I don’t think that alters to fundamental point though. This ratio is far, far higher than in comparable countries and we ought to understand why that is.

What’s a comparable country in this case?

Do we go by population. in which case we can choose from France, Ethiopia and Thailand for our comparators.

What about economy? Take GDP per capita and the nearest comparators are Sweden and Germany.

What about something a bit more nebulous like culture – broadly speaking that would put us up against Canada, Australia, New Zealand and, at a pinch, the US, all of which have a higher abortion rate than the UK.

I’m not saying we can’t learn lessons from other countries, especially those like Germany and the Netherlands that have liberal abortion laws and low abortion rates, in fact if you look around, the work in respect to taking teenage pregnancy and abortion has already been done for you:

So, if Dutch, German, and French teens have better sexual health outcomes, have fewer sexual partners, and initiate sexual activity at the same age or even later than U.S. youth, what’s the secret? Is there a ‘silver bullet’ solution for the United States that will reduce the nearly four million new sexually transmitted infections occurring among U.S. teens each year, or the 20,000 new HIV infections among 13- to 24-year-old youth, or the 900,000 teen pregnancies?

Unfortunately, there is not a single, ‘silver bullet’ solution. Yet, the United States can use the experience of the Dutch, Germans, and French to guide its efforts to improve adolescents’ sexual health. Indeed, the United States can overcome obstacles and achieve social and cultural consensus respecting sexuality as a normal and healthy part of being human and of being a teen by using lessons learned from the European study tours.

* Adults in the Netherlands, France, and Germany view young people as assets, not as problems. Adults value and respect adolescents and expect teens to act responsibly. Governments strongly support education and economic self-sufficiency for youth.

* Research is the basis for public policies to reduce unintended pregnancy, abortion, and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Political and religious interest groups have little influence on public health policy.

* A national desire to reduce the number of abortions and to prevent sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, provides the major impetus in each country for unimpeded access to contraception, including condoms, consistent sexuality education, and widespread public education campaigns.

* Governments support massive, consistent, long-term public education campaigns utilizing the Internet, television, films, radio, billboards, discos, pharmacies, and health care providers. Media is a partner, not a problem, in these campaigns. Campaigns are far more direct and humorous than in the U.S. and focus on safety and pleasure.

* Youth have convenient access to free or low-cost contraception through national health insurance.

* Sexuality education is not necessarily a separate curriculum and may be integrated across school subjects and at all grade levels. Educators provide accurate and complete information in response to students’ questions.

* Families have open, honest, consistent discussions with teens about sexuality and support the role of educators and health care providers in making sexual health information and services available for teens.

* Adults see intimate sexual relationships as normal and natural for older adolescents, a positive component of emotionally healthy maturation. At the same time, young people believe it is “stupid and irresponsible ” to have sex without protection and use the maxim, “safer sex or no sex.”

* The morality of sexual behavior is weighed through an individual ethic that includes the values of responsibility, respect, tolerance, and equity.

* France, Germany, and the Netherlands work to address issues around cultural diversity in regard to immigrant populations and their values that differ from those of the majority culture.

Awww, would you look at that – says absolutely fuck all about prohibition, religion, abstinence and outdated notions of sexual morality about from noting that these have virtually no influence of public policy.

In fact one of the first and most effective things that government could do is change the present abortion laws and get rid of the outdated business of justifying abortions on mental health grounds and just except that women have abortions because it their fucking choice. Stop hiding behind medical euphemisms and maybe there’s  chance of conducting substantive research in why women choose to have an abortion from which we can then devise public policies to address their needs and not the prejudices of a bunch of fucking god-botherers and armchair moralists who don’t know jack shit about the difficult choices a woman faces in deciding whether or not to have an abortion.

All this takes is a simple understanding on the nature of abortion rights – if you’re pro life then you have the right not to have and abortion…

…now fuck off and keep your morals and beliefs to your fucking self.

16 thoughts on “Iain Dale’s maths shames bloggers

  1. Unity, unlike your good self I can’t be arsed to delve through the statistics, but would the number of abortions carried out include those carried out on behalf of those from the Irish Republic and other countries with strict abortion laws? If so then that would alter the percentage of aborted pregnancies in this country.

    I’m sure you’ll tell me.

  2. The figures for Irish citizens are treated separately from the main 193,700 figure and add another 7,400, taking the total number of abortions performed in the UK to a touch over 200,000.

    There don’t appear to be separate figures for citizens of other EU states, so I would suspect that we treat the Irish Republic as a special case because its a known issue in our figures and I doubt, as yet, that much work has been done on the question of whether other nationalities add much to the figures outside of the routine ethnicity monitoring (i.e. White, Black, Asian, etc.)

    The biggest concerns we should have are the general lack of research in UK into the whys of elective abortions (apparently there is a good body of research on this from Scandinavian countries) and the very worrying data from Southampton on the numbers of women having second trimester abortions because the don’t realise they’re pregnant until a fairly late stage – that last one raise clear issue about the quality of public education given to women about their own bodies.

    I suspect that we can extrapolate from the US study to the UK to some considerable extent – the numbers may vary but the broad reasons given will hold for the UK – in which case the biggest factors that influence women to choose to have an abortion are:

    Can’t afford a baby and not the right time/too disruptive – either due to considerations of continuing education, employment or economic circumstances. This one crops up strongly amongst women having abortions but who already have children, the decision being driven by the impact that a baby would have on their ability to provide for their existing kids.

    Interestingly, a study from New Zealand I cited in an earlier post shows that of the three area, only education is significantly affected in the long term by unexpected pregnancy. Young women who fall pregnant while in F/T education tend not to return to education, or if they do, return at a lower level than when they left to have their baby – e.g. they may drop out of a degree course and return later to vocational training, if they go back at all.

    Instability in personal relationships – either no stable partner or relationship problems leading to doubts about future stability and the impact that pregnancy might have, and

    Finished having kids – there’s quite a high (and increasing) percentage in the US study who choose an abortion because they’ve had a late ‘accident’ after the point at which they’ve decided that enough is enough.

    All these point to the importance of prevention through contraception and public education if we want to get the numbers down, with particular emphasis on free and easy to access emergency contraception.

  3. What counts as an abortion? Does it include the morning after pill (which doesn’t present foming the zygote but does prevent implantation)? Does it include abotions carried out for medical reasons? Are there age profiles for abortions?

    Sorry, I’m at work and so can’t check, but that might have an effect on the figures and how they’re seen.


  4. Morning after pill? No – that counts as emergency contraception and the stress that opponents place on it preventing implantation is a blind – about 80% of fertilised eggs naturally fail to implant anyway.

    Medical interventions yes – not sure if the breakdowns by category for this year have been released as yet, but breakdowns based on the six categories specified in the Abortion Act are produced and published.

    Age profiles – yes, again. Not got the full figures to hand but last year it was about 4,000 for under 16’s and the largest number of abortions were in the 20-24 age group, although figure for the upper age range (35+) are increasing as a reflection both of women taking decisions about when their family is complete and limitations on types of contraception available to over 35’s due to age-related health issues.

  5. Worth pointing out that the figures for the Catholic countries probably don’t take into account the number of illegal/hidden/backstreet abortions that take place. So those figures for Catholic countries showing a low rate probably don’t show the whole picture. There are plenty of other stats out there (no, I haven’t the time to find them right now) showing that having abortion illegal doesn’t make all that much difference to actual abortion rates – just how dangerous they are.

    Also worth making the point that just because a woman is Catholic, doesn’t actually make her less likely to have an abortion. I make this sweeping generalisation on the basis of figures from the US, which show that Catholic women are actually more likely to have abortions than Protestant women, probably because of a combination of lack of use of contraception plus social stigma around children outside marriage.

  6. I read your blog,Guidos’ and Iains.I post mostly on Guidos’ to generally annoy the hell out of the morons who inhabit that dark place.I have a go at the nasty Verity using what you term sock puppets over at Dales’ Diary.However I must state that the figures you and Iain have brought to my attention,came as a bit of a shock.I have never even considered how many abortions are carried out each year.The statistics have given me reason to consider if this can be right or not.Have a go at Iain and Guido that’s what I expect from you,that’s why I read you.But not because they can’t add up that’s a bit weak friend.I can’t spell to save my life,punctuation is pure guesswork and arithmetic a long forgotten skill. I hope you will not mock me, a pensioner who voted Labour despite Blair and that calls for loyalty.

  7. Mike:

    Let’s just cover this.

    Accurate figures are important here because Iain makes the observation that the abortion stats for Britain are ‘so much higher’ than in many other countries:

    1) They’re not, and

    2) The reasons for this are complex and often not easily extrapolated to the UK, e.g. the abortion rate in Saudi Arabia is zero because abortion is illegal, but few but the most blinkered religious believers would seriously suggest we go down the absolute prohibition route to reduce our own number because of the obvious consequences of such a move.

    As for being shocked – that’s okay if you’re a layman and all this completely new to you, but to pretend that when you’re actively involved in politics, suggest that you’re pro-life and spend a fair bit of time bigging up Nadine Dorries, who written a couple of spectacularly empty-header pieces on abortion in the last couple of weeks is heading towards hypocrisy and trying to provoke a reaction for reaction’s sake, and asking people who comment on your blog to suggest what should be done rather than look for evidence, about as half-witted as it gets.

    Without getting too deeply into the pro-life/pro-choice debate, the crux of the issue here is that no one in their right mind thinks that 193,700 abortions a year is a good thing.

    Where the difference come into play is when it comes to the question of what to do about it.

    The ‘pro-life’ lobby think that prohibition and trying to moralise the problem away is the right thing to do, and there is not a shred of valid evidence to support such an idea.

    Those are pro-choice take the view that prevention is the best approach, which means better sex/relationship education in schools, free access to contraception and that one of our most pressing needs is to understand why women choose to have abortions and how we can use that information to address their needs and work to prevent unwanted pregnancies, which is the best solution all around.

    It’s not wrong to be shocked by such statistic, but what matters is how to react to them – by citing an 1800 year old book as authority for everything or talking to 21st century women about what they really need.

  8. Unity,

    The penultimate paragraph of your reply to ‘Mike’ is something I can happily agree with 100%.

    But lets leave such emotive terms as ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ out of it, eh?

    I oppose the death penalty 100%. No exceptions- even for the foullest of killers. I’m not Catholic- but there is something in the credo of Catholicism of the absolute, unconditional right to life that strikes a chord with me- and,I suspect, many other readers.

    I also agree that some abortions will always be necessary- rape, incest, where the foetus is severely deformed and/or not likely to survive; and of course, where the mother’s life is at danger or would be at danger.

    But ‘pro-choice’? There is no fucking choice for aborted foetuses. None at all. Just death and oblivion.

    I’m not giving you a panacea; or a solution; or a ‘happy ending’. Because there probably isn’t one. It is probably the trickiest debate in politics- assuming that it is politics at all.

    I just have a problem with [quite rightly] protecting the right to life of the most evil; whilst denying it to the most innocent. That’s all. And no, I don’t know what the answer is.

  9. The problem that I have with Ian’s post (and the previous commentator) is the claim to objectivity or neutrality (just look at the figures etc.) when couched in such opinionated rhetoric:

    “This means that nearly one in three four babies conceived in this country is aborted. Let me repeat that. One in three four babies conceived in this country is aborted.”

    Now there is I believe a case to be made for the fact that babies aren’t conceived they are born. Otherwise the figures are surely a lot higher than even Ian suggests when you take into account the number of ‘babies’ that fail to implant in the uterus.

    “What on earth does it say about our broken society that so many living beings are aborted?”

    Again. Living being seemed to suggest sentient being, not a term that can be liberally used around abortion with clauses like ‘potential’ being included. And finally (from the comment above):


  10. Another superlative anti-idiot post, Unity.

    As for the issue of pro-life VS pro-choice, as Unity has pointed out, pro-choice does not just mean pro-abortion. It’s concerned with choice to make decisions, with all the information available.

    And if we’re talking about destroying lives, an unwanted baby can destroy the life of the prospective mother. When faced with the option of ruining someone’s life by bringing an unwanted child into the world, or the sheer expense of destroying said baby, surely the best option would be prevention? A cause not often supported by the “pro-lifers” out there.

  11. There has been a slight rise in the number of abortions but most of this rise has been in first trimester abortions.

    The only thing that concerns me about first trimester abortions is the inconvenience caused to the woman – it obviously would be much better if contraception had worked/been used but there certainly is no ethical/moral issue. Later abortions are more difficult morally but it still better to let women choose abortion rather than force them to bring a child into the world to be raised by parents not ready or capable to bring them up.

    Most anti-choice on abortion Tories/religious prats like Ian Dale/Cormac Murphy-O’Connor etc. with their moral posturing actually are responsible for this country having legislation that delays abortions, increasing the number of late trimester abortions. They also encourage untold anguish on women with their religious and/or pompous guilt trip they try to pin on women. Their other tactic is to try to lower the upper limit for abortions and that only results in the wealthy going abroad while the poor have to have children they do not want – there is nothing moral about this.

    Has anybody any ideas on how we reduce the number of these religious/Tory idiots?

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