Changes in the abortion rate

The number of abortions is fairly stable, ranging from 210,000 to 220,000 annually in metropolitan France over the last fifteen years. On an annual basis, only 1.5% of women aged 15 to 49 in France have an abortion. If we take into account these women’s entire lives, approximately 1 in 2 undergo the procedure at some point. The risk of abortion is higher from ages 20 and 30 than later in life. Meanwhile, abortion among women under 20 has fallen, as shown in the following graph.

Number of induced abortions by age group (years), 1990 to 2017

Overall, the abortion trend has been following a similar curve to the total fertility rate but at a level four times lower (Mazuy et al., 2015; Vilain, 2018).

Seasonal variations in abortions

The monthly breakdown of the year’s abortions gives an average of about 8% each month (Figure). Broken down by place, similar numbers of abortions are carried out in hospitals and elsewhere*.
The slight difference between the curves can be explained by the fact that all non-hospital abortions are medical abortions and therefore performed, on average, earlier in the pregnancy.

Monthly distribution of abortions by establishment type, 2017

There are more abortions early in the year, corresponding to conceptions occurring late in the previous year and at the New Year peak (Régnier-Loilier, 2010 ; Régnier-Loilier and Rohrbasser, 2011). Numbers drop in April, which is a holiday period. The steep rise in June may correspond to a tendency to hasten recourse to abortion before the summer holidays. The September increase can similarly be interpreted as terminating July and August pregnancies that were not dealt with during the summer holiday period. The difficulty getting an abortion in summer is one point raised by the national abortion data committee in its report (Commission IVG, 2016). Difficulties in getting abortions and in finding trained and practised staff to perform them under good conditions are recurrent problems in most countries (Guillaume and Rossier, 2018). In France, this was particularly the case in 2018 in the south of Sarthe, where one hospital could not perform abortions for nine months of the year. This instance highlighted the difficulties inherent in staff shortages and the way local supply can be impeded when medical staff use the conscience clause.

*Two types of data are available: those collected via the Programme de médicalisation des systèmes d’information (PMSI, information system medicalization programme) for abortions in hospital, and the number of abortion expenses reimbursed (medical fees and drugs) for medical abortions performed outside hospital, supplied by the health insurance body for salaried employees (Caisse nationale d’assurance maladie des travailleurs salariés, CNAM-TS) from their own data since 2005 and from health centres and family planning and family education centres since 2009, by the farmers’ health insurance body Mutualité Sociale Agricole (MSA) and by the self-employed health insurance system since 2010 (Vilain, 2018).

Source: Didier Breton, Magali Barbieri, Hippolyte d’Albis, Magali Mazuy, 2019, Recent Demographic Developments in France: Seasonal Patterns of Births, Deaths, Unions, and Migration, Population 2018-4.

Contacts: Didier Breton, Magali Barbieri, Hippolyte d’Albis, Magali Mazuy

Online: June 2019