Clare Murphy, Chief Executive of BPAS, said:
“The pandemic has deepened existing inequality across the UK, and this data makes it clear this is having a significant impact on women’s pregnancy choices. Since the start of the pandemic, women on the lowest incomes are more than twice as likely to contact us for abortion care than the richest. Unintended pregnancy is a fact of life, but women will make very different decisions about whether to continue that pregnancy based on the circumstances she finds herself and her existing family.
"Our research shows women on low-incomes are feeling a deep sense of anxiety about their employment prospects and their financial precarity. UK-wide data shows that women are more likely than men to have been furloughed, and even for those who have maintained employment through the pandemic, their income may have dropped due to reduction in working hours or a reduction in income from self-employment. At the same time, families are facing rising costs, including energy and food bills, as a result of spending more time at home. Almost two-thirds of the women we cared for who already had children told us financial factors played a role in their decision making.
"Access to telemedical abortion care is particularly important for these women, and must be retained if the Government isn’t to make life for women in already challenging circumstances even more difficult. Our ability to treat women at home during the pandemic has removed financial barriers to accessing care: prior to the introduction of our pills by post service, the cost of transport, childcare, and the loss of wages from taking time off work, meant that some women on low-incomes were forced to seek abortion pills illegally online. In doing so, these women risked up to life imprisonment under our archaic abortion law.
"Despite the significant body of clinical evidence that demonstrates pills by post is a safe and effective model of care, the government are currently considering revoking permission for the service, which would effectively lead to the re-criminalisation of these women. We are concerned that if they were to do so, it will be women from the most deprived communities that suffer the most. We must be able to continue to provide this service for all women. If not, we expect that women who lack financial resources will once again turn to online pills and risk criminal sanction.”
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BPAS is a charity that sees almost 100,000 women a year for reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception, at clinics across the UK. It supports and advocates for reproductive choice.
BPAS also runs the Centre for Reproductive Research and Communication, which seeks to develop and deliver a research agenda that furthers women’s access to evidence-based reproductive healthcare, driven by an understanding of women’s perspectives and needs. You can find out more here.
BPAS intends to launch a not-for-profit fertility service in Autumn 2021, to provide ethical, evidence-based, person-centred care that supports patients. We intend to only charge what it costs to provide a safe, high-quality, and accessible service to patients who may be unable to access NHS-funded care.