Pressure to make sex education compulsory in UK schools is likely to mount as latest abortion figures hovered around the 200,000 mark, with a 10 per cent rise in terminations among under-aged girls.
The official survey showed there were 198,500 abortions last year, up by nearly 30,000 in the decade since Labour came to power. In 1969, the first full year after abortion was legalised, the total was under 50,000.
Nearly a third of the women -- 64,000 -- were having a second or subsequent termination. Of these, 14,746 were on at least their third, more than 1,000 were on a fifth, and 29 had gone through eight or more.
The high level of repeat abortion has fuelled claims that the procedure is seen by many women as a form of fallback contraception rather than a last resort.
Curtis Thomas, from the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, said: 'These figures show that far from further liberalising the law as some MPs want to do, there is a real need to tighten it up, to show a greater regard for the unborn child.
Labour MP Claire Curtis-Thomas said the numbers were 'truly horrifying'. Tory MP Nadine Dorries said: 'We now have children aborting babies. They have been neglected in an appalling manner and the situation is becoming worse year on year.'
A policy review is now under way in which Whitehall advisers are thought likely to recommend that parents should no longer be allowed to withdraw children from sex and relationship lessons, reports the Daily Mail. Primary schools may also be required to give sex education for the first time.
The survey is bound to put the Labour in the dock as the opposition feels it is a failure of the government's Teenage Pregnancy Strategy aimed at bringing down the number of teenage conceptions. A total of £138 million has been spent on the project so far and the health department had early this year pumped in an additional £26 million.
Health minister Dawn Primarolo said there was an urgent need to "improve women's access to contraception and help reduce the number of abortions, repeat abortions and teenage pregnancies".
Women and child care groups criticise the government for trying to push through quicker abortions instead of reducing these numbers through sensible precautions such as offering a full range of information to women considering abortion. They say sex and relationship education should begin at a younger age than now to reduce under-age pregnancies.