Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 71(2) May 2021

In Haec Tempora

Two-child benefit cap is influencing women’s abortion decisions : BPAS study

FamilyA recent study by the abortion provider BPAS gives a tragic vision of the way in which a lack of support leads women to abortion. The BPAS study found that the two-child benefit cap has been influencing women’s decisions to continue with a pregnancy or have an abortion.

The study, by one of Britain’s largest abortion providers, BPAS, surveyed 240 mothers with two or more children who had an abortion during 2020.

59% of the women surveyed said they were aware of the two-child benefit cap when they had an abortion. Of the women surveyed who were receiving universal or tax credits, 57% confirmed that the two-child benefit cap was “important in their decision making around whether or not to continue the pregnancy”.

Forcing women into a corner

The two-child benefit cap means that a family which has a third child born after April 2017 will no longer qualify for child tax credit. The policy has been accused of “forcing families to make im­possible choices.” The women surveyed by BPAS described how the current economic and job insecurity combined with the two-child benefit cap pressured them to have abortions. Some women said that if the financial climate was healthier, they would have kept their babies.

One woman said: “The two-child cap forces people into a corner of knowing they can’t provide versus abortion... Although I understand it is not the government’s responsibility to be financially responsible for parents having children, I also felt that thanks to this rule I was forced to make this decision.”
Another woman said: “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.”

“The disturbing reality behind the veneer of choice”

SPUC’s Director of Communication Michael Robinson said: “These devastating accounts from women illustrate how those in need are routinely left behind. “We know that a lack of support is a huge factor which pushes so many women towards abortion. This study tells us that abortion is not about ‘choice’. It is actually about a lack of choice and a lack of support.”
“For years, SPUC has stressed how abortion is a symbol of inequality and highlights how society has failed to meet the needs of women. So often, women are pushed and pressured towards making a ‘choice’ for a number of societal reasons such as finances, unstable relationships or employment.”
“Earlier this year SPUC reported on how women from the UK’s most deprived areas were twice as likely to have an abortion compared to women from the UK’s least deprived areas. This is the disturbing reality behind the veneer of choice.”
Katherine O’Brien of 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.”

Strangely perhaps, we find ourselves agreeing with BPAS on this. A lack of support clearly pushes women towards abortion. But the CMQ notes that it is the duty of all health professionals to protect those who need support and who lack appropriate help. We would all argue that women really must be offered the help and support to keep babies. How tragic therefore these women had abortions performed by BPAS employed doctors and nurses who did not manage to enable the help these women needed. Abortion is wrong and to allow women to “choose” abortion while denying them the very support to choose not to have an abortion is dishonest and utterly indefensible.