Controversy has erupted after it was revealed that the government is set to donate a quarter of a million pounds raised by the tampon tax to aid an anti-abortion group.
Life, an organisation which campaigns against abortion and has come under scrutiny for a network of unregulated pregnancy counselling centres, will receive £250,000 thanks to the tax on sanitary products, it was announced on Friday.
Women’s groups and politicians were among those condemning the news that a group fundamentally opposed to a woman’s right to choose will benefit from what is effectively a tax on women.
Sophie Walker, the leader of the Women’s Equality Party, said: “We consider any restriction on women’s reproductive rights as violence against us.”
Quoting Life’s website, Walker said it was a “shock” to discover that the government was planning on using the tampon tax fund to “support a charity whose mission is anti-choice and aims to ‘make abortion a thing of the past’.”
The government announced in November 2015 that the 5% VAT charged on women’s sanitary products would go directly to fund “women’s health and support charities” in the UK, such as women’s refuges and domestic abuse charities. This came after former chancellor George Osborne failed to honour his pledge to scrap the tampon tax entirely.
Some 70 organisations across the UK are now set to share £12 million from the tampon tax fund, according to information published on the Department for Culture, Media & Sport’s website on Friday.
Despite the fact that Life is receiving a larger tampon tax grant than almost all other organisations on the list, the government’s main press release omitted any mention of the anti-abortion charity– instead focusing on the money going to organisations such as the Women’s Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre Cornwall (£179,157) and Children North East (£88,939).
The government said that the £250,000 being donated to Life as a result of the tampon tax is earmarked to help “young pregnant women who are homeless” in London with “housing, practical help, counselling, emotional support and life skills training”.
Life’s key ethos is that “the act of abortion is always wrong”, and the organisation has been the subject of controversy in recent years for providing incorrect information to women about abortion.
Sexual health charity Brook has written two reports into Life’s activities. In one, the organisation sent mystery shoppers to Life’s counselling services and found that the charity was providing “misinformation and bias and poor quality practices”.
Life was found to distribute leaflets which Brook says falsely claimed that abortion was linked to breast cancer.
In another report, Brook concluded: “Life has falsely linked abortion to mental health problems, increased risk of suicide, breast cancer, placenta praevia and ectopic pregnancy (all of which are discounted by the RCOG’s [Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists] professional guidelines on abortion).”
An undercover researcher visiting a Life centre as part of a separate investigation was given a leaflet entitled Abortions – How They’re Done, which stated falsely that 85% of abortions are done by vacuum aspiration. It claimed that “the unborn child is sucked down the tube” and that “the woman should wear some protection [as] she has to dispose of the corpse”.
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Walker said that the Women’s Equality Party recognised the work done by Life to support homeless pregnant women and care for children with “life-limiting or terminal illnesses”.
However, she said the feminist political party was “very disappointed” that Life is set to receive such a huge sum of money while so many other women’s charities are struggling – “particularly those supporting black and minority ethnic women and disabled women who experience some of the highest rates of violence against them and yet are consistently at the bottom of the list for funding.”
Labour MP Paula Sheriff, who recently led a Commons debate on period poverty, told The Observer: “It will seem bitterly ironic to many women if we are taxed for our biology, only for the government to hand over that money to organisations that don’t even believe we should have control over our own bodies, especially when so many are left without basic sanitary protection.”
Responding to the announcement, Life’s Director of Operations Margaret Coward said that the organisation sees women “in genuine crisis because of pressures to end their pregnancy”.
She continued: “We are grateful to the Government for the money awarded to Life. It is a positive gesture which will go a long way towards helping the thousands of women who are in crisis and need our support.”
Images: iStock / Rex Features