Friday, July 24, 2020

It is a woman's choice

The Office for National Statistics has revealed a fall of 12.2% since 2012. That’s a replacement rate of just 1.65 children per woman – even lower in Wales.

The choices women make have always been economically determined – and whatever choices they make are always a reason for blame: they had too many, or too few, babies, they were too young or too old, too poor or too careerist. Women are seen as selfish for having children, or selfish for being childless.

When times are hard people can afford fewer babies. In this miserable decade when wages fell back, when good jobs were replaced with insecure, disrespected work, young people struggle to pay rent, home ownership falls and many live with parents well into their 30s.

Birthrates aren’t determined by women’s whims. The social geographer Prof Danny Dorling anticipated that austerity would breed fewer babies. There was a fall in the 1970s and most dramatically in the 1930s depression, when “demographers were so alarmed they predicted the emptying out of the population by 2000”. How serious is a population fall? Dorling notes that immigration often neatly fills the missing cohorts. That’s the likely solution

In the last decade, spending on children fell, family benefits cut, nurseries are closing, The number of school nurses has fallen by 30% since 2010, with health visitors numbers also reduced.

Families suffered under the bedroom tax. But most emblematic was the two-child limit in benefits: it had no effect on numbers, it just impoverished families with three children who claimed benefits, as thousands more will now. Many will feed their children from food banks for the first time, and child poverty is well documented.

Clare Murphy, one of its directors, notes the disapproval of women, whatever they do. If they have babies early, they are “a burden on the state” but if they leave child-bearing until after 40 they are too “ambitious”. The NHS often refuses the three cycles of IVF that Nice recommends because the misery of infertility ranks unjustly low in priorities of suffering.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), a 1968 charity was created “to remove all barriers to reproductive choice”. BPAS is delighted that it has been made possible to order abortion pills by phone within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy during the pandemic, but Christian Concern has been granted a judicial review to try to prevent it. We are still far from believing that every woman is free to control or encourage her own fertility as suits her circumstance.

No comments: