- A new study from BPAS of women who ended a pregnancy during the pandemic has found financial factors played a role in most decisions - with 57% of women who were aware of and likely to be affected by the two-child child limit saying it impacted their choice
- Women described feeling significant regret and sadness because they felt unable to continue what was a wanted pregnancy due to the policy.
- The government’s two-child limit policy, which was first introduced in April 2017, severely restricts the amount of financial support for low income families with three or more children. This additional support is worth nearly £2,900 per child per year
- Since the policy was introduced, the proportion of abortions to women with 2 or more children has risen by 16.4%, a significantly larger increase than in other groups
- Due to the economic impact of COVID-19, including unemployment and reductions in take-home pay, women felt “forced” to end a pregnancy that they would have wanted to continue if there had been financial support available.
- Women also reported difficulties accessing contraception during the pandemic, leading to unplanned – but not necessarily unwanted – pregnancies.
- BPAS believes the two-child limit, which is based on the assumptions that pregnancies and family finances can be perfectly planned, cannot be justified in the current pandemic and should be lifted
“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.”
Research published today by the charity the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, BPAS, has found that the two-child limit is a significant factor in women’s decision making around whether or not to continue a pregnancy. The charity undertook research with 240 women who ended a pregnancy during the pandemic and who already had two or more children. Half (49%) were in receipt of Universal Credit or Tax Credits and would therefore likely be immediately affected by the two-child limit, and the majority were aware of the two-child limit. Among these women, the majority (57%) said that the policy was important in their decision-making around whether or not to continue the pregnancy. The charity is warning that unless the policy is revoked, more women will be “forced into a corner between financial hardship or ending an otherwise wanted pregnancy.”
The report, Forced into a corner: the two-child limit and pregnancy decision making during the pandemic, found 62% of all women surveyed said that their decision to end their pregnancy was either due to mainly financial factors or a combination of financial and other factors. Many women said that their family finances had been adversely affected by the consequences of the pandemic:
“[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 fell pregnant] at the start of the pandemic... I was furloughed so I had to take a paycut.”
Job insecurity caused by the pandemic meant that some women felt that while they could currently afford to have another child without the guarantee of financial support, they were worried that this may not be the case in the future:
“I am so anxious about the future of my job and my husband’s job. We can afford a third child now, but I don't know if we would still be in this position in 9 months’ time.”
Some women felt that the combination of the pandemic and the two-child limit in effect removed their ability to continue their pregnancy, and described feeling “forced" by their financial circumstances into ending a pregnancy that, had their situation been different, they would have wanted:
“If there was no two-child limit I would have kept the baby, but I couldn't afford to feed and clothe it… I've really struggled to come to terms with [my decision].”
“I did something I never imagined I would ever do... But at the back of my mind all I kept thinking is how would I have managed financially… I had to do this.”
“The two-child cap forces people into a corner of knowing they can't provide versus abortion… Although I understand that it is not the government's responsibility to be financially responsible for parents having children, I also felt like thanks to that rule I was forced to make this decision.”
The government’s two-child limit policy, which was first introduced in April 2017, severely restricts the amount of financial support for low income families with three or more children. After the first two children, universal credit and child tax credits can only be claimed in respect of a third or subsequent child born after April 2017 if one of three extremely narrow exemptions apply. This additional support is worth nearly £2,900 per child per year. According to Government statistics, 243,000 families had been affected by the two-child limit by April 2020, and it is estimated that an additional 60,000 families are likely to have been affected as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
The current crisis has significantly widened the gap between the reality of families’ lives and the beliefs that underpinned the policy when it was introduced – that parents can prevent unplanned pregnancy through the use of contraception, and that they can plan their financial circumstances for the 18 years following the birth of their children.
Prior to COVID-19, evidence began to emerge which suggested that the two-child limit may be having an impact on women’s pregnancy choices. Between 2016-2019, the number of abortions performed in England and Wales increased by 11.7%, from 185,596 to 208,384. Over this same period, the number of abortions performed to mothers with 2 or more existing children increased 16.4%, while for women with no existing children or one existing child, the numbers increased by 10.3% and 7% respectively. This disproportionate increase in the numbers of abortions performed to women with 2 or more children could be linked to the introduction of the policy.
BPAS has previously raised concerns that the introduction of the two-child limit policy was based on the incorrect belief that unplanned pregnancies can be avoided by accessing contraception. No method of contraception is 100% reliable, and indeed the majority of women presenting at BPAS for abortion care were using a method of contraception when they fell pregnant. During the pandemic, it has become more difficult for women to access contraception and in particular long-acting methods with a higher efficacy, such as the coil or contraceptive implant, as these require face-to-face consultations and for a fitting performed by a healthcare professional:
“With COVID, I couldn’t access any family planning facilities, so I fell pregnant in May.”
Katherine O’Brien, Associate Director of Campaigns at BPAS, who led the research, said:
“As an organisation committed to reproductive choice, at BPAS we advocate for policies and practices that enable women to make their own decisions around preventing, ending, conceiving, or continuing a pregnancy. Our research provides clear evidence that the combination of the COVID-19 pandemic together with the two-child limit is a significant factor in many women’s decision to end a pregnancy. Given the scale of predicted job losses and long-term economic forecasts, we anticipate that the numbers of women in this incredibly difficult position will only increase.
“The two-child limit policy assumes that couples are able to use contraception to neatly plan pregnancies, and that they are also able to plan their financial circumstances for the 18 years following the birth of their child. Even prior to the pandemic, this was far from the case. However, the COVID-19 crisis means that more families will face unforeseeable and sudden financial hardship. It is harder for parents to plan their financial future, and it is also harder to access contraception to prevent pregnancy.
“When the policy was introduced in 2017, no-one could have predicted the impact it would be having on families in 2020. As ministers repeatedly state, these are truly unprecedented times that require unprecedented measures. If the government does not want to see more women feeling forced into a corner between financial hardship or ending an otherwise wanted pregnancy, they must revoke the two-child limit as a matter of urgency.”
The full report is online here: https://bpas.org/media/3409/forced-into-a-corner-the-two-child-limit-and-pregnancy-decision-making-during-the-pandemic.pdf
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About the survey:
Between 12th October and 9th November 2020, BPAS collected 240 survey responses from women with two or more existing children who had ended a pregnancy since March 2020. Women were invited to take part in the survey via email from BPAS.
BPAS is a charity which 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 Spring 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.