Number of mothers aged over 45 treble in a decade

The number of women having babies over the age of 45 has more than trebled in just over a decade as couples delay having children for career and financial reasons, according to official figures.The number of mothers aged over 45 treble in a decadeWhile the prevalence of teenage mothers has dropped dramatically since the 1990s, older mothers have reached the highest level seen in recent times.

A new analysis of birth records for 2011 published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) confirms a major shift towards women having babies later in life, with even mothers in their early 20s becoming increasingly rare.

They show that less a quarter of births England and Wales in 2011 involved mothers under the age of 25 – half the proportion seen in 1970 and the lowest level since records began in 1938.

At the same time women over the age of 35 accounted for a fifth of the total in maternity wards, almost four times as many as in 1977, while those having babies over the age of 45 dramatically higher than a generation ago.

The ONS said the shift reflected a greater emphasis by women on building a career before having children couples with the impact of fertility treatment as well greater instability in relationships.

The figures also show the number of children born outside of marriage reaching a record high of 47.2 per cent.

Four out of 10 mothers over the age of 45 were also unmarried. Only 25 years earlier, almost eight out of 10 children were born to parents who had tied the knot.

But, significantly, the figures also hinted at major changes in the attitudes of fathers.

Birth registration records show that over the same period the number of men signalling a desire to play a part in the lives of children when they are not in a relationship with the mother has more than doubled.

Overall there were 723,913 live births in England and Wales in 2011, the most recent year for which figures are available.

A total of 1,832 babies were born to mothers over the age of 45 in 2011, almost three times the number as recently as the year 2000.

The figures bear witness to the impact of IVF, indicated by a marked rise in the number of women in their late 40s having twins or triplets.

In 1989, just three women in England and Wales had a multiple birth, a figure which was to increase more than thirty-fold in 20 years.

An analysis of birth registrations showed that almost a third of births were registered to couples living together but not married, up from only 10 per cent in 1986.

But more than one in 10 births were registered to parents who lived at separate addresses but were prepared to share responsibility.

That is three and a half time the level seen in the mid 1980s.

Rapid rise in numbers of women having repeat abortions

More than a third of women having an abortion are having the procedure for at least the second time, official figures show.Rapid rise in numbers of women having repeat abortionsThere has been a jump in the proportion of women having repeat abortions to reach 36 per cent, equating to around 63,300 women, it has been found.

In 2010, 34 per cent of terminations were for women who had already undergone at least one. This was the biggest rise ever recorded in one year, the figures from the Department of Health show.

Although the total number of women having an abortion has dropped for the last four years, the proportion of them having the procedure more than once has increased.

The figures also reveal that more women are having multiple terminations. Last year 434 women had at least their fifth abortion, a number that has risen steadily since 2007.

Campaigners said the rise in repeat abortions was ‘particularly disturbing’.

The figures will raise fears that abortion is being used as form of contraception and doctors and nurses are not doing enough to counsel women about family planning methods when they request a termination.

It is thought around £1 million is spent on repeat abortions every week.

Across England one in four repeat abortions to women under the age of 25 were repeat abortions. In North East Lincolnshire almost half of abortions carried out on women in this age group were for at least the second time.

Overall the figures show a slight increase in the number of women born in England and Wales having an abortion to reach 189,931 in 2011.

The abortion rate peaked in 2007 and has dropped since then but remains more than double that of 1970.

The figures also show the abortion rate in under 16s, below the age of sexual consent, has dropped from 3.9 per 1,000 girls in 2010 to 3.4 per 1,000 last year.

However this masked a wide variation with nearly eight girls under the age of 16 per 1,000 in Southwark having an abortion compared with two per 1,000 in nearby Kensington and Chelsea.

Michaela Aston from the anti-abortion group, Life, said: “We should be shocked and concerned by these latest statistics, especially given the apparent decline in overall conception rates in 2011, which means that the proportion of all pregnancies that end in abortion has risen considerably.

“This is despite contraception being more widely available than ever before.  It is particularly disturbing that repeat abortions rose again, with 36 per cent of women seeking abortion having had at least one previous abortion. This is a clear indication that the original intent and spirit of the Abortion Act is being widely flouted and ignored.”

Abortion services have been under scrutiny after the Daily Telegraph revealed doctors were agreeing to perform abortions on the basis of the gender of the feotus, which is illegal in Britain.

Julie Bentley, chief executive of the fpa, formerly the Family Planning Association, said: “Although there’s been a very slight increase, the number of abortions hasn’t changed significantly in the past few years and this is to be welcomed.

“However we do know that cracks are beginning to appear in contraception services. Shockingly some parts of the NHS deliberately ban women from having certain contraceptive methods and there are over three million women who don’t have access to comprehensive services. If we are going to bring down abortion numbers, this needs to change. Contraception is an essential not a luxury.”


New IVF postcode lottery meaningless ruling by NICE quango

Gay couples and women over 40 will be entitled to the same free IVF treatment as heterosexual couples on the NHS for the first time under new guidelines published today.New IVF postcode lottery meaningless ruling by NICE quangoSame sex couples will be given the same rights as heterosexual couples under guidance issued by the killer quango National Institute for Curbing Expenditure (NICE).

The NHS will also extend the upper age limit for IVF by three years to 42, following advice that suggests many women in their late 30s and early 40s could conceive after treatment.

Fertility experts questioned whether health authorities could afford to widen eligibility criteria, when only a quarter currently fund three cycles of IVF for infertile couples, as recommended by Nice.

Gedis Grudzinskas, emeritus professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Barts and the Royal London Hospital, said that while the new guidance reflects “social changes” there were questions over whether NHS trusts could afford it.

“How do we reconcile the changes in society and equality of access to healthcare, with the economic predicament?” he said.

The new guidelines call on health authorities in England and Wales to fund fertility treatment known as intra-uterine insemination (IUI), using donor sperm, for people in same-sex relationships.

The move follows a relaxation in the law, made under Labour in 2008, to put same sex parenting on an equal legal footing.

The recommendation follows implementation of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008. It abolished requirement for fertility clinics to take into account a child’s need for a father or a male role model before agreeing to treatment. Gay couples or single women now need only show they can provide “supportive parenting”.

Demand from gay couples paying privately for fertility services has subsequently boomed, say clinics. Official figures show the number of lesbian couples undergoing IVF rose from 178 in 2007 to 417 in 2010.

One cycle of IVF can cost up to £8,000 privately. Because success rates are low – typically 20 per cent for a 38-year-old – couples can spend tens of thousands on treatment.

Meanwhile Josephine Quintavalle, founder of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, described the same-sex move as “absurd”.

She said: “We are not prepared to accept what constitutes fertility from a biological perspective. Fertility treatment is very important but in this case what we are trying to do is rewrite biology.”

Under the Nice guidelines, women aged 40 to 42 deemed to have no chance of conceiving naturally should be offered one full IVF cycle. In this age group one in eight will give birth after one cycle.


Abortion clinic checks cost £1 million

Urgent checks of abortion clinics ordered by the health secretary last month cost £1 million and meant hundreds of other inspections were cancelled.Abortion clinic checks cost £1 millionThe Care Quality Commission (CQC) said the request at short notice from the Department of Health meant 580 pre-planned inspections were cancelled.

Time spent on planning and inspecting equated to 1,100 days, it said.

The department said the inspections had been agreed between the CQC and the health secretary.

It added that if the regulator had said more money was needed, it would have been provided.

The inspectors visited nearly 300 abortion providers in England over three days in March, and found about 50 were not complying with laws or regulations.

Several doctors were referred to the General Medical Council, and police have been investigating too, to establish whether criminal offences have been committed.

In a letter to the Department of Health, CQC chairwoman Dame Jo Williams said the urgent inspections have had “a considerable impact on our capacity to deliver our annual targets”.

“Such a request at short notice entails Operations management time in planning the visits, cancelling pre-planned inspections as well as the compliance inspector time in carrying out the visits and drafting the reports.”

Dame Jo outlined the impact on scheduled activity in the letter, saying that 320 locations would require visits, with the total number of days required – including for planning and management – being 1,100.

“This equates to a total of 580 inspections foregone and a total of 16 inspectors being utilised on a full year basis at an estimated cost of £1.0 million,” she wrote.

She also asked that the department take into account such an impact on planned work “when considering future requests and delivery within a time limited period”.

The work of abortion clinics first came under the spotlight in February when the Daily Telegraph secretly filmed doctors and alleged some were agreeing to terminate foetuses when women did not want their baby because of its gender.

Police are investigating the allegations.

Killing babies article reveals the truth of abortion say pro-lifers

Pro-life campaigners have welcomed publication of an article arguing killing newborns should be “permissible”, saying it showed there was no moral difference between abortion and infanticide.Killing babies article reveals the truth of abortion say pro-lifersThe article, which argued newborns and foetuses were only “potential persons” and not “actual persons”, has provoked a storm of protest.

The authors, whose piece was published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, have received death threats for suggesting that “what we call after-birth abortion (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled”.

Many believe such possibilities should never be raised – even within the confines of an ethics journal.

However, some anti-abortionists have welcomed its publication, saying it casts a bright light on what abortion actually is.

Anthony Ozimic, from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), said the article, which he described as a “chilling promotion of infanticide”, showed how abortion was “creating a culture of death”.

While he was appalled at the suggestion that newborns should be killed for their parents’ convenience, he nevertheless said it showed the logical framework behind infanticide and abortion was the same.

He said: “The paper proves what pro-lifers have long been arguing: that the common arguments for abortion also justify infanticide.

“There is no difference in moral status between a child one day before birth and a child one day after birth.  Birth is merely a change of location, not a change from non-personhood to personhood.”

He continued: “All human beings, regardless of age, location or capacities, are regarded in international law as equal members of the human family and thus as having an equal right to life.”

The authors, ethicists Dr Alberto Giubilini and Dr Francesca Minerva, argued: “The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a foetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.”

Rather than being “actual persons”, newborns were “potential persons”. They explained: “Both a foetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’.

“We take ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.”

As such they argued it was “not possible to damage a newborn by preventing her from developing the potentiality to become a person in the morally relevant sense”.

“Actual persons” could be harmed by being killed, in that they were prevented from accomplishing “aims”.

But they argued: “Now, hardly can a newborn be said to have aims as the future we imagine for it is merely a projection of our own minds.”

Parents should be able to have the baby killed if it turned out to be disabled without their knowing before birth, they said, citing the example that only 64 per cent of Down’s syndrome cases in Europe were diagnosed by prenatal testing.

Once such children were born there was “no choice for the parents but to keep the child”, they wrote.

“To bring up such children might be an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole, when the state economically provides for their care.”

However, they did not argue that some baby killings were more justifiable than others – their fundamental point was that, morally, there was no difference to abortion as already practised.

They preferred to use the phrase “after-birth abortion” rather than “infanticide” to “emphasise that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus”.

The authors argued: “The alleged right of individuals (such as foetuses and newborns) to develop their potentiality … is over-ridden by the interests of actual people (parents, family, society) to pursue their own well-being because, as we have just argued, merely potential people cannot be harmed by not being brought into existence.”

“Actual people’s well-being could be threatened by the new (even if healthy) child requiring energy, money and care which the family might happen to be in short supply of.

“Sometimes this situation can be prevented through abortion, but in some cases this is not possible. In these cases, since non-persons have no moral rights to life, there are no reasons for banning after-birth abortions.”

While accepting that many people would disagree with their arguments, Prof Savulescu commented: “The goal of the Journal of Medical Ethics is not to present the Truth or promote some one moral view. It is to present well reasoned argument based on widely accepted premises.”

Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, he added: “This “debate” has been an example of “witch ethics” – a group of people know who the witch is and seek to burn her. It is one of the most dangerous human tendencies we have. It leads to lynching and genocide.

“Rather than argue and engage, there is a drive is to silence and, in the extreme, kill, based on their own moral certainty. That is not the sort of society we should live in.”

He said the journal would consider publishing an article positing that, if there was no moral difference between abortion and killing newborns, then abortion too should be illegal.


Morning after pill not effective on most fertile days

The ‘morning after pill’ which was being offered over the phone in a controversial new scheme over the Christmas period is “not effective” when a woman is most fertile, a consultant gynaecologist has warned.Morning after pill not effective on most fertile daysDr Kate Guthrie said Levonelle One Step, the form of emergency contraception being offered by the British Pregnancy Advice Service (bpas), was “not effective” for up to five days around ovulation.

Dr Guthrie, a member of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health, was concerned that women could take the pill during these days and wrongly think they would avoid pregnancy.

She said: “There’s very clear evidence showing that it’s not effective in the couple of days running up to ovulation, and probably not very effective in the 36 hours afterwards.”

The aim of the bpas scheme is to cut the number of women seeking abortions over the festive season.

The idea is that women will be able to pop the pill on the morning after accidentally having unprotected sex, rather than having to get an appointment, which can be difficult over the Christmas break.

Part of the rationale is, as bpas puts it, “the sooner the morning after pill is taken after unprotected sex, the more effective it is.”

Dr Guthrie, who works in East Yorkshire, agreed with that, saying that Levonelle should always be taken within 72 hours of sex.

However, she was concerned that women would not be sufficiently informed of Levonelle’s limitations.

While she welcomed immediate access to emergency contraception, she said: “You have to know how effective or ineffective it is.”

Guidance from the faculty, published this August, states that Levonelle “has been shown to be no better than placebo at suppressing ovulation when given immediately prior to ovulation, and is not thought to be effective once the process of fertilisation has occurred”.

Dr Guthrie said that, if a woman has had unprotected sex at this time of the menstrual cycle, she should see a doctor about obtaining another form of emergency contraception.

Women trying to conceive should take vitamin supplements

All women who are trying to have a baby should take special ‘conception’ vitamin supplements after a study found fertility patients were twice as likely to get pregnant if they were taking them.Women trying to conceive should take vitamin supplementsThe research involved women who were having treatment to boost their fertility but as there were no side effects from taking the vitamins, scientists said all women who are trying to conceive should consider them.

In the study half of women were given a multivitamin and mineral tablet to take each day and half were given folic acid, recommended by government to prevent abnormalities in the baby.

Four weeks later they then had a fertility drug treatment.

Women on the vitamins were more likely to conceive and 60 per cent were still pregnant three months later compared to 25 per cent on folic acid.

They were also likely to fall pregnant after fewer fertility treatments with three quarters conceiving on their first cycle, compared with less than one in five of those on folic acid, it was found.

The study conducted by researchers at Warwick University involving 56 women attending University College London and the Royal Free Hospital fertility units.

The women, who were mostly from an affluent background, all had healthy diets at the beginning of the study and later blood tests showed those on the multivitamin had higher levels of micronutrients than those only taking folic acid.

Lead author Dr Rina Agrawal, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist and Associate Professor in Reproductive Medicine, said: “All women considering pregnancy should take a specifically formulated prenatal micronutrient supplement to optimise their chances of conception.”

She said it is not known what components of the vitamin tablet had the effects on pregnancy but the Pregnacare Conception product used contained a range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and substances linked to ovarian function and blood flow to the reproductive organs.

The findings are being published in the Reproductive BioMedicine Online journal.

Dr Allan Pacey, Senior Lecturer in Andrology at the University of Sheffield said “The influence of nutrition on our fertility is of general interest to the public and professionals, but there are relatively few studies which have examined this systematically and few which have shown direct benefits of taking supplements to enhance things.”

“Therefore, on the face of it, this study is interesting but we should acknowledge that this is a relatively small number of patients and the study would need to be repeated in a larger trial before we could be certain of the results.

“I can’t help but thinking that for most people, just general dietary advice would achieve the same effect and a good basket of fresh fruit and vegetables from the greengrocer each week would have much the same effect if their diet was poor.”

Glenys Jones, a Nutritionist at the Medical Research Council’s Human Nutrition Research said: “This is an interesting study and supports the body of evidence that diet plays an important role in supporting women’s health and their fertility.

“However this study alone cannot result in the general recommendation that all women undergoing fertility treatment should take a preconception multivitamin as it is a very small single study and further large-scale research is required to investigate if this is reproducible in a larger more diverse group of women.”

Catherine Collins, Principal Dietician, St Georges Hospital NHS Trust said: “Although the researchers claimed their diets were nutritionally adequate no robust data was provided to confirm this – a major concern for any trial making nutritional claims.

“We know that broad-spectrum supplements can correct dietary deficiencies and boost blood levels of iron, B12, folic acid and vitamin D – as was shown in this study which suggests these women had low intakes pre-conception.

“As this study was of women with conception problems there’s no evidence to suggest every woman considering pregnancy should take them.

“Similarly, n-acetyl cysteine and arginine have been shown to improve the efficacy of IVF treatments in a small number of studies, but there’s no evidence to support their use in natural conception. However, the nutritional advice for women contemplating pregnancy remains unchanged – take folic acid supplements until 12 weeks of pregnancy and if you decide on a multi-nutrient supplement for nutritional insurance make sure it’s one suitable for pregnancy, as the vitamin A content is lowered to ensure safety of the developing baby.


Women who meet husbands while on pill have happier and longer marriages

Women who are using the contraceptive pill when they first meet their future husband are less attracted to them but are more likely to have a lasting and happy marriage, according to a new study.Women who meet husbands while on pill have happier and longer marriagesMarriages last on average two years longer if the female partner is on the pill when the pair share their first encounter.

While they are less likely to be attracted to or sexually satisfied by their husbands, women who take the pill are happier with other aspects of their marriage such as financial support and faithfulness, making the couple less likely to split up.

Taking a contraceptive pill makes a woman’s hormones more balanced over a month, remaining at levels which occur during the non-fertile stages of the natural monthly cycle.

Not using the pill means hormone levels are allowed to change, causing a change in emotions which make physical attraction a higher priority.

Researchers questioned 2,500 women from a number of countries including Britain about various aspects of their relationship with the biological father of their first born child.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B journal, suggests that using the pill could have an influence on a woman’s choice of husband.

Dr Craig Roberts, of Stirling University, who led the study, said: Our results show some positive and negative consequences of using the pill when a woman meets her partner. Such women may, on average, be less satisfied with the sexual aspects of their relationship, but more so with non-sexual aspects.

“Overall, women who met their partner on the pill had longer relationships – by two years on average – and were less likely to separate. So there is both good news and bad news for women who meet while on the pill. One effect seems to compensate for the other.”