There were four times as many legal abortions among under-18s in the Southwark strategic health authority area during 2009 as there were in the Monmouth area during the same period. But it is not as simple as an urban-rural divide.
Although a rate of 40 per thousand under-18 women in Southwark was exceptional, and Manchester, another urban health authority, was the highest in the North West with 30 per thousand, Torbay and North East Lincolnshire came top in their regions with 28 abortions per thousand under-18 women.
That is the same figure as Coventry, the health authority with the highest rate in the West Midlands. Neither Torbay nor North East Lincolnshire can be described as entirely urban although, interestingly, both are coastal locations, one centred on Grimsby and the other Torquay.
Although many of those with low figures are affluent areas such as Surrey and Kensington and Chelsea, that cannot be the whole answer, since both Derbyshire and Blackburn and Darwen have the lowest rates for their respective regions, and their profiles are very different from those of Surrey and west central London.
What is more important than the figures themselves is whether the current "age of austerity" facing local authority youth services across the country, and the curriculum freedoms many schools will now have under the coalition Government, will affect these rates adversely. Unless sexual activity among under-18s declines as a result of a change in attitudes, the only alternatives to a further increase in the birth rate will be either increased use of contraception, increased use of the morning-after pill, or a rise in abortion rates. But at least society has moved on from the scenes of backstreet illegal abortions depicted in Mike Leigh's 1950s-set film, Vera Drake.
John Howson is director of Education Data Surveys, part of TSL Education
ABORTION RATES AMONG UNDER-18S PER 1,000 WOMEN*
*Strategic health authorities with the highest and lowest figures in each region in 2009
Cornwall and Scilly Isles Dorset: 12
Merthyr Tydfil: 22
Berkshire East: 10
Brighton and HoveHastings and RotherMedway: 20
Kensington and Chelsea: 12
South West Essex: 21
Blackburn and Darwen: 13
North East Lincolnshire: 28
North Yorkshire and York: 12
HartlepoolRedcar and Cleveland: 24