A record number of women in Lancashire had an abortion last year, figures show, amid a relaxation in rules around seeking treatment at home.
A total of 4,154 abortions were reported in Lancashire in 2020, Department of Health and Social Care figures show.
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That was a rise of three per cent from the 4,050 recorded in 2019.
It was also the highest number reported in a year since comparable local figures began in 2012.
Across England and Wales, 209,917 abortions by residents were recorded in 2020 – a two per cent increase from 2019, when there were 207,384, and a record number since figures were first published.
The proportion of abortions which were medical, as opposed to surgical, increased from 73 per cent in 2019 to 85 per cent in 2020.
The increase is partly a result of a temporary change in Government policy which allows women to take the two pills, enabling an early abortion in their own home, the DHSC said.
Up until April last year, the first pill, mifepristone, had to be taken at a registered clinic or hospital.
A proposal to make the rule change permanent is under consideration.
The British Pregnancy Advice Service said home abortions had been “transformative” for women, adding that transport issues, job uncertainty and abusive relationships had previously led to some to obtain the treatment illegally.
Clare Murphy, chief executive of the group, said: “The increase in numbers may reflect the fact that as a result of early abortion at home becoming lawful, women no longer need to seek help outside regulated providers.”
She added: “We didn’t need a pandemic to know that the ability to access early abortion at home would be transformative for women - particularly those in the most challenging circumstances.”
But pro-life group Right To Life said it had concerns over what it called “DIY” home abortions, claiming they are not always safe and are open to abuse.
The group claims basic checks are not done on women prior the procedure, and that women in late pregnancy are also able to get hold of the at-home treatment.
A spokesperson said: “Since the Government permitted DIY home abortions, many stories of illegal late-term abortions and safety abuses have come to light.”
In Lancashire, the abortion rate among women aged between 20 and 24 and over saw the biggest increase, rising from 29 abortions per 1,000 women in 2019 to 30 last year.
The procedure was also the most common among women in the same age bracket.
The DHSC said it expected to make a decision on its proposal for home abortions later this year following a three-month consultation which ended in February.
A spokesperson added: “Safe and continued access to key services has been, and remains, our priority.”