THE abortion rate in Dorset is slowly increasing and matching national trends, new figures show.

Figures released by the Department for Health revealed that there were there were 874 terminations or 15.1 for every 1,000 women across the Dorset County Council area, compared with 14.1 the previous year.

Of the age group, women aged 20 to 24 were most likely to undergo the procedure, but the lowest chance was among girls aged under 18.

There were 411 terminations carried out in the area in 2017, a rate of 15.8 for every 1,000 women aged 15-44, compared with 16.7 in 2016.

Meanwhile, nationally across the UK, the rate for the whole of England is 16.5 but ranges from 9.6 per 1,000 women in York to nearly three times that rate in Barking and Dagenham.

The figures show 36 per cent of the cases were recorded as repeat procedures for a woman who had a previous abortion.

Dr Kate Guthrie of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said: "It is very encouraging to see a continuing decrease in the abortion rate for young women under the age of 25, and in particular for teenage girls.

"Meanwhile, abortion rates have been increasing for women aged 30 years and over.

"This may be due to the increasing number of sexually active women postponing first childbirth until into their 30s, and therefore having more years where contraception is required."

Meanwhile, in Bournemouth, there were 746 terminations in Bournemouth in 2017, or 16.8 per 1,000 women, compared with 16.1 in 2016 with the highest rate in Bournemouth being among women aged 25 to 29.

However, in Poole, the abortion rate defied the national trend despite a small increase last year.

In the borough, 11 terminations carried out in the area in 2017, a rate of 15.8 for every 1,000 women aged 15-44, compared with 16.7 in 2016 with the majority taking place during the first ten weeks of pregnancy.

Dr Guthrie said: "Sustained reduction in the public health budgets has led to widespread sexual health service cut backs.

"It is absolutely crucial for women to have access to effective contraception and sexual health services.

"This will enable them to take control of their health and fertility by preventing unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections."

Across the country last year, 189,859 women living in England and Wales had an abortion plus 4,809 women who were non-residents.

The data shows that 60 per cent of those women came from the Republic of Ireland, where a recent referendum resulted in a vote to change the country's strict abortion laws.

A further 20 per cent were from Northern Ireland, where controls on abortion remain in place.

The procedure is permitted under the Abortion Act if two medical professionals agree that having the baby would be a risk to the physical or mental health of the mother.

Abortion is also allowed in cases (just two per cent of all cases in England last year) where a child would be born with a serious handicap.