Fewer induced abortions in France following the first lockdown period (March-April 2020)

After rising in France in the years 2016-2019—230,000 abortions in 2019—induced abortions fell to slightly under 220,000 in 2020 (207,000 of them in metropolitan France), a decrease of 4% directly due to the health crisis. Whereas the total number of abortions in January, February and the first half of March 2020 followed the numbers and was even slightly higher for the same period in 2019, it fell afterward, especially just after the country’s strict March-April 2020 lockdown; i.e., in May-June. It then rose again in July, August, and September, ultimately stabilizing at the end of the year at a lower number than in the preceding years. 

Nearly 80% of this decrease concerned women under 30 and hospital abortions. The 2020 abortion rate among women over 38 remained relatively similar to the 2019 rate. 

The decrease in abortions is associated with fewer pregnancies

Alongside the fall in abortions, France saw a fall in its birth rate in late 2020-early 2021. The decrease in pregnancies among younger women is due to several factors: decisions to delay parenthood plans, geographical distance from life partners (especially for very young women sheltering with their families), particularly heavy work loads for the many women in health professions and/or caring for young children due to school and childcare center closures, strong uncertainty about the future due to the health and social crisis, and others. The fall in total number of pregnancies, abortions, and births thus seems to correspond to a fall in conceptions, especially among young people during France’s first and strictest lockdown period. 

Increase in medication abortions under personal physician supervision

One-fourth of abortions in France in 2020 were performed surgically, almost exclusively in public hospitals. Over 75% of abortions were medication induced, and 41% were done under personal physician supervision. 

The fall in abortions primarily concerned surgical procedures in hospitals, though medication abortions also fell slightly. Private physician-supervised medication abortions rose in 2020 compared to 2019, despite a slight fall after the first lockdown period. The use of medication abortion, already rising annually in France, was amplified by the health crisis, the extension in mid-April 2020 of the legal delay for medication abortions from 7 to 9 weeks of amenorrhea (identical to the delay for surgical abortions), and authorization of remote medical consultation. 

Less recourse to private hospitals and greater recourse to midwives

While many actors—hospital staff, doctors, midwives, associations—were active in preserving abortion access during the health crisis, private hospitals and clinics were not, accounting for fewer than 12,000 abortions in 2020.

Source: Didier Breton, Nicolas Belliot, Magali Barbieri, Hippolyte d’Albis, Magali Mazuy, 2021, L’évolution démographique récente de la France : Moins de naissances, de mariages et de migrations, plus de décès... la Covid-19 bouleverse la dynamique de la population française, Population 2021-4.

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

On line :February 2022