Gendercide: the reality of sex-selective abortion in the UK

Filed in Ethics by on October 28, 2014 1 Comment

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Having spoken to thousands of students about the issue of abortion, most teenagers usually feel that abortion on the grounds of gender is “well, just wrong, Miss”, an attitude that seems to be shared by many in our society.

We can rewind to February 2012, when the Telegraph broke the nation’s apparent apathy towards abortion with the shocking disclosure that three doctors had been caught on camera sanctioning the requests of women to abort their baby girls. The country reeled with repugnance.

Another doctor, Dr Argent, a GP and consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist who refuses women sex-selective abortions, told the Telegraph that the practice was widespread, with many women having blood tests and scans and then requesting abortions without disclosing the real reason for the abortion; and that there are also women who don’t even bother to hide the truth of what they are doing and still get the abortions they want.

Public revulsion at this revelation resulted in The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) conducting a 19 month investigation into the doctors caught. However, to many people’s dismay, the CPS concluded that it was not in the public interest to prosecute the doctors involved.

Keir Starmer, the then Director of Public Prosecutions, explained in his findings that there is a lack of guidance for doctors in assessing and recording these types of cases and that the evidence for a conviction of a gender specific abortion was not strong because of the unclear reasons the presenting woman gave.  The stated reason for the abortion could, theoretically, be wider than the ground of gender, and therefore not contrary to the law; it could be in accord with BMA guidance to doctors, which states: “There may be circumstances, however, in which termination of pregnancy on grounds of fetal sex would be lawful.”

What circumstances might this be? One could take the example of mental anguish caused by cultural pressures to have a child of a certain gender, the assessment of which is no longer solely on the grounds of the sex of the baby, but on the ‘mental health’ of the woman as well. This, it might be argued, could be lawful under the 1967 abortion act which states in section 1 that: the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family.’  Another circumstance might be if there is a sex-linked genetic condition.

The Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sally Davies, issued two letters reminding doctors of their obligations under the law, stating in both communications that: “The law is clear that termination of a pregnancy on grounds of gender alone is illegal”. The second letter stressed that the CPS decision did not alter this.

However, some academics and organisations, such as BPAS , are playing somewhat on the vagueness of the law, saying that the law neither states abortion on gender grounds is legal or illegal.

Urgent clarification on the legal status of sex selective abortion is clearly required, which Fiona Bruce MP, hopes will be achieved when Parliament debates her Abortion (Sex Selection) Bill on the 4th November. This bill is short and aims to state that the Abortion Act 1967 does not permit abortion on the grounds of a baby’s gender.

If you want to find out more about this bill and this issue, and how you can lobby your MP on this extremely important matter, please visit Stop Gendercide.

Remember, most people feel very strongly about this issue, but few will do anything about it. So, what will you do?

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Joanne Hill

About the Author ()

An experienced speaker on life and relationships issues, Joanne read physiology at the University of St Andrews, and studied philosophy under the French philosopher, Pere Marie-Dominique Philippe, OP. Subsequently specialising in bioethics, she gained a masters in bioethics from the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, Rome, while working in education and media with the charity LIFE. She is currently developing her own bioethics project, Pierian Education.

Comments (1)

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  1. mik says:

    People have learned nothing

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