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Contact your MP about sex-selective abortion before 4th November

by Cllr Chris Whitehouse (originally printed in The Catholic Universe)

Can we really countenance babies being aborted simply because they are girls?

On Tuesday 4th November, the House of Commons will debate sex-selective abortion. Fiona Bruce, MP for Congleton and a determined pro-life fighter, has secured a debate under the Ten Minute Rule, and will be bringing forward her Abortion (Sex Selection) Bill. This Bill is very short and very simple: its purpose is to make it quite clear that the 1967 Abortion Act does not permit abortion on the grounds of the baby’s sex, and to enable abortion clinics to be inspected to ensure compliance.

There is a very simple website you can visit to get in touch with your MP and encourage them to turn up on the day and support Fiona Bruce. It is: www.stopgendercide.org. It will not take long. Please consider taking a few minutes to make a real difference.

It is only relatively recently that sex-selective abortion has begun to be discussed as a serious problem in the United Kingdom, although it has been known for some time that countries such as India and China are experiencing problems with population imbalance due to the disproportionate abortion of girls.

The abortion law needs to be clarified as a matter of some urgency. Recent revelations about sex-selective abortion in the UK have revealed that key institutions involved in the provision and regulation of abortion take completely different positions on its legal status. The government insist that “abortion on the grounds of sex alone is illegal”, and that abortion for sex is only legal where the unborn child has a sex-linked disability or impairment. The British Medical Association (BMA), by contrast, have issued a document disputing this understanding of the law, as has the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS).

The Abortion (Sex Selection) Bill supports, and is consistent with, the government’s interpretation of the law. Making it law would limit the ability of BPAS and the BMA to undermine that interpretation, and remove some of the damaging uncertainty. It would be a small but significant victory for pro-lifers, and would encourage a serious debate about abortion in general and discriminatory abortion in particular.

In September 2013, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced that it would not be taking any further action against doctors alleged to have offered sex-selective abortions to mothers simply because their babies were girls. This followed an eighteen-month inquiry, launched after The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported in March 2012 that many abortion clinics were ignoring the regulations laid out in the 1967 Abortion Act (not only by offering abortions on the grounds of sex, but also by accumulating stockpiles of pre-signed abortion authorisation forms).

The CPS acknowledged that there was enough evidence of sex selective abortion being offered to justify a prosecution under the Criminal Attempts Act 1981, but they claimed that it would not be in the public interest to proceed. In support of this decision, they noted that the General Medical Council was already investigating the matter, that it was a complex area of medical ethics and law where doctors had to make very difficult judgments, and that there was no clear “victim” of the crime. It was widely recognised that this was weak stuff – not least by the GMC, who pointed out that they were not intended to be a substitute for the criminal justice system and were not there to punish doctors.

The Prime Minister and Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, expressed concerns, with Mr Hunt writing to the Director of Public Prosecutions, the head of the CPS, to seek a fuller explanation. The Shadow Attorney General, Emily Thornberry MP, also wrote to the DPP questioning the decision, even though she is strongly pro-abortion.

A long debate ensued, focusing on the legal question of whether or not sex-selective abortion was legal in the UK and the ethical question of whether it was morally acceptable. On the first, no definitive answer was reached. Due to the ambiguity in the UK abortion law, abortion for sex-selective abortion is neither clearly forbidden nor expressly permitted. The legal provision under which the vast majority of the UK’s 200,000 abortions per year are performed is ground C of the Abortion Act, which states, rather vaguely, that “risk” to the mother’s mental health is enough justification for abortion. Given the laxity with which the law is generally interpreted, it’s not hard to see how someone could claim that having a girl instead of a boy would represent such a risk. Fiona Bruce’s Bill would change all this, and provide genuine protection for unborn baby girls at risk of abortion.

Sex-selective abortion is not yet a serious problem in the UK, although some newspaper reports and academic research have discovered evidence that it does happen and may be increasing. The Independent and Telegraph newspapers have both published the reports of investigations into the issue during the last two years, while a 2007 study at the University of Oxford found some evidence of sex-selective abortions occurring in certain areas. There is also considerable anecdotal evidence that sex-selective abortion is available in the UK, notably from women’s charities such as Jeena International, who work with women seeking to escape abuse. Jeena report that women being coerced into aborting female babies is not uncommon. Whistleblowing doctors have also provided testimony, with one saying to the Daily Telegraph in 2012 that there were “an awful lot of covert abortions for sex selection going on”.

We cannot be sure that the situation will not get much worse in the future, so we must take action now to prevent a worsening of the situation. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Encourage your MP to support this much-needed clarification of the law, which is in accordance with the government’s own stated policy and will help to stamp out discriminatory abortion.

Visit www.stopgendercide.org today if you want to help highlight and end this lethal discrimination against girls.

Cllr Chris Whitehouse KSG is Chairman of Westminster’s leading political consultancy, www.whitehouseconsulting.co.uk, a Trustee of The Right To Life Charitable Trust, Secretary of the Catholic Legislators’ Network, and a Member of the Isle of Wight Council (Cons. Newport West).