A Government Policy Is Influencing Women’s Decision To Have Abortions During The Pandemic

Photographed by Ashley Armitage
There is a controversial government policy known as the 'two-child limit' which means that anyone receiving child tax credits or universal credit can claim support for a maximum of two children unless those children were born before 6th April 2017.
Before the coronavirus pandemic we knew because of research from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) that this policy was forcing some women to end pregnancies that they might otherwise continue. Now, a new report published by BPAS has found that the policy has been influencing women’s decisions about whether or not to have an abortion throughout the pandemic. 
Between 12th October and 9th November 2020, BPAS surveyed 240 women with two or more existing children who had ended a pregnancy since March 2020. Over half of those women, who were aware of the two-child limit and likely to be affected by it, said that it was "important in their decision-making around whether or not to continue the pregnancy."
They said things like:

[The two-child limit] was a big factor for me. My husband has lost his job so we are on a very tight budget and when we looked at our finances we realised we couldn't afford to have another baby.

[I got pregnant] at the start of the pandemic... I was furloughed so I had to take a pay cut. 

It would have been impossible to effectively financially support a third child without a small financial contribution from the government and this was a contributing factor to me ending my fourth pregnancy.

I work so I receive working tax credits as well as child tax credit and child benefit but I knew I would not receive any additional help with the new baby. As my children have got older the money I receive doesn't go as far – clothing is more expensive, they require more food etc. 

Food is not cheap and you spend your life living on a budgeted income with two children so with another you would be more on a budget… bills are not cheap either.

We know that the pandemic has had a huge impact on people’s finances. We also know that women, particularly young women who are more likely to work in affected industries and families, have been particularly hard hit. 
Research conducted by the Child Poverty Action Group and the Church of England found that nearly nine in 10 low-income families faced additional costs as a result of coronavirus. Families reported spending significantly more time at home, increasing energy and food bills, and some families had expanded during the pandemic as elderly relatives moved in or older children returned home.
It’s not just low-income families who will be affected by this. We know that record numbers of people are applying for universal credit as a result of the pandemic. Some of those people have never applied for benefits before and already feel that there is a stigma attached to doing so. The two-child limit only reinforces that. 
Abortion is an essential right that gives women and people with wombs reproductive autonomy. However, it should always be a choice and as we face a period of once-in-a-generation economic uncertainty, nobody should be forced to make a potentially life-changing decision because of government policy. 
Katherine O'Brien, associate director of campaigns at BPAS, said: "At BPAS, we have always opposed the two-child limit on the basis that it restricts women’s reproductive choices. However, we believe that the pandemic has created a unique set of circumstances which means that any previous justifications for the policy cannot be said to still stand. The two-child limit fails to protect families against the impact of unexpected life events, and it is hard to imagine a more unexpected life event for our entire society than the current pandemic. If the government does not want to see more women, as one respondent stated, feeling 'forced in to a corner' between financial hardship or ending an otherwise wanted pregnancy, they must revoke the two-child limit as a matter of urgency."
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson told Refinery29: "We know this is an uncertain time for families which is why we have taken unprecedented steps to support incomes and help with living costs. The support available through the welfare safety net reflects the fact that the majority of households in Britain (85%) have two or fewer children."
Please sign our petition and help us change the law to fix abortion provision once and for all.

More from Politics

R29 Original Series