Sex-selective abortions in India could lead to the abortion of 5 million girls over the next decade

The lives of almost 5 million baby girls in India will be lost over the next decade due to the prevalent use of sex-selective abortions, according to new research.

Academics at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia estimate the average annual number of “missing female births” will be 469,000 from 2017 to 2025 and 519,000 from 2026 to 2030, resulting in around 6.8 million lives lost.

Over the next decade, between 2020 and 2030, this would mean the lives of 4,890,000 baby girls would be lost to abortion – an average of more than 1,338 every day.

Anuradha Saxena, a member of the women’s empowerment division for Sikar district, in Rajasthan, told the Guardian that the figures came as no surprise to her. 

“It will take time to remove deep-rooted custom and belief. Progress is slow and incremental but we are working on making girls valued and cherished instead of being seen as a liability who needs a huge dowry to be married off,” she said.

Fengqing Chao and her team modelled the sex ratio at birth across 98% of India’s population, along with fertility rates and national survey data on people’s preferences to have a son or daughter.

The model predicted that there would be 6.8 million “missing female births” across India between 2017 and 2030. The prediction started with 2017 as this is the year after the most recent birth data was published.

India’s missing female births over the next 10 years could have a significant impact on the global sex ratio, since the UN predicts that India will overtake China to become the world’s most populous country in that time period.

‘No girl born in three months’

Despite outlawing sex-selective abortion and pre-natal sex detection in 1994, sex-selective abortion and infanticide remain common practice due to the cultural preference for male children.

A recent report from India’s Government also found an estimated 63 million women were “missing” from the country’s population.

Census data from 2011 showed there were 919 girls to every 1,000 boys for children up to the age of six. In some northern states that ratio was as low as 830, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The World Health Organization says the natural sex ratio at birth is about 105 boys to every 100 girls.

Last year, it was revealed out of 216 births across dozens of villages in northern India, over a 3 month period, not a single girl was born.

Social worker Kalpana Thakur said at the time that the authorities were not doing enough.

“No girl child was born for three months in these villages. It cannot be just a coincidence. This clearly indicates female foeticide is taking place in the district. The government and the administration are not doing anything.”

Sex-selective abortion: A worldwide problem

Sex-selective abortion is a well-documented problem in countries around the world, resulting in highly skewed sex ratios.

Since amending its abortion law in 1998, sex-selective abortions have become a major issue in Canada.

An article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal describes how “easy access to abortion and advances in prenatal sex determination have combined to make Canada a haven for parents who would terminate female fetuses in favour of having sons…”.

Similarly, evidence of sex-selective abortions has been found in the Australian territory of Victoria, which introduced abortion on request in 2008.

Following the law change in Victoria, Dr Mark Hobart was investigated by the Medical Board of Victoria for failing to refer a woman for a sex-selective abortion. Additionally, an investigation by Australian broadcaster SBS found higher numbers of boys than girls being born in some ethnic communities in Australia.

A recent study from La Trobe University, analysing more than a million births in Victoria, suggests some parents could be aborting unborn female babies in order to have a son.

In the UK, shadow Minister Naz Shah has previously called for the Government to stop the misuse of Non-invasive Prenatal Test (NiPT) after evidence emerged they were being used to abort pregnancies based on gender.

The Labour MP said: “The government needs to look into this exploitative practice and enforce appropriate restrictions.”

However, Ms Shah is presumably okay with disability-selective abortions as she also said: “NIPT screenings should be used for their intended purpose, to screen for serious conditions and Down’s syndrome.”

Polling, conducted by Savanta ComRes, showed 89% of the general population and 91% of women agree that gender-selective abortion should be explicitly banned by the law.

Triplets thriving despite doctors pushing ‘selective termination’ on parents

A couple are celebrating the birth of triplet girls after resisting pressure from doctors to abort one of them.

Doctors advised Becky Sefton and Adam Balduckie to have a ‘selective termination’, which means choosing to end the life of at least one child in the womb, claiming their babies only had a 50% chance of survival if they didn’t.

But, the couple refused and welcomed Ellie, Everlyn and Ella into the world on 28 March.

Mother Becky told the Mail: “We thought if we lose one or all of them it means they weren’t meant to survive, but they came out kicking and screaming.”

“The birth was an incredible experience”, she added, revealing: “It was a miracle. The anaesthetist actually shouted ‘Jesus!’ when they came out screaming and crying.

“He said he couldn’t believe they were all crying because their lungs were not developed yet.”

Becky’s due date for the babies was 14 May but she was rushed to hospital on 27 March when she started having contractions.

The triplet girls were born just one day later, weighing just 3lbs (1.36kg) each.

Ellie, Everlyn and Ella had to remain in hospital for three weeks while doctors monitored their progress, but allowed their parents to take them home last week.

Now aged just one month old the girls are flourishing and developing well.

Becky, who also has seven-year-old daughter Poppy, and sons Alfie, five, and Freddie, two, said: “I’m so proud. It still hasn’t hit us yet that we have got three. A month down the line it hasn’t sunk in.

“My other three children didn’t see them for three weeks until we brought them home. They are all smitten with them and couldn’t believe it.

“They are really happy to have three more siblings.”

Father Adam said: “It has been quite strange and nerve-wracking worrying about whether Becky or the girls could catch something like coronavirus.

“The girls are doing brilliantly now. They are all laid back and don’t have distinct personalities yet.

“The kids are all pitching into help which is great. We’re just happy we’re all together.

“We’ve made a strict family routine so the triplets have fallen into that which makes life a lot easier for us.

“You have got to be organised with three newborns. It is exhausting but very rewarding.”

In 2015, former Olympian Jaime Halsey and her husband Steve Halsey were advised by doctors to abort two of the three babies after discovering Jamie was pregnant with triplets.

Thankfully, for Jaime and Steve abortion was never an option. They chose to keep all three baby girls, saying: “Other people have triplets and I wasn’t prepared to abort two healthy babies just to make life easier.”

The three of them turned five earlier this year and are enjoying lockdown life with their mother and father.

In England and Wales, 111 ‘selective termination’ procedures were performed in 2018 (the most recent figures available).

Last year, Norway’s parliament voted to restrict ‘selective termination’ abortions by introducing legislation requiring women pregnant with twins, triplets or more to obtain permission from a medical board if they want to abort one foetus or more.

Doctors in the country had warned that, aside from the major ethical concerns about aborting one twin, ‘selective termination’ procedures carry major health risks, both to the mother, and to the surviving twin.

Dr Birgitte Heiberg Kahrs, a specialist in fetal medicine at St Olav’s Hospital in Oslo, said: “We have not found any medical benefit from this.

“On the contrary, it exposes the second child in the womb to danger as the abortion risk increases.”

Norway restricts abortions on twins and triplets

The Norwegian Parliament voted to introduce legislation requiring women pregnant with twins, triplets or more to obtain permission from a medical board if they want to abort one foetus or more.

On the 13th June, having debated through the night, a majority in the Norwegian Parliament voted to add a minor restriction to Norway’s long-standing abortion law.

A total of 105 Members of Parliament voted in favour of the change, including members of the four government parties plus several MPs from the rural-oriented Center Party. A total of 64 MPs voted against the law proposal.

The vote followed months of debate where Prime Minister Erna Solberg (who is a supporter of abortion) was ultimately forced to make the concession on abortion in order to form her coalition government.

Under Norwegian law, abortion is available without restriction up to 12 weeks of pregnancy and up to 18 weeks with minor restrictions. After this point, if the baby can survive outside of the womb, abortions are not permitted unless the life of the mother is in danger.

This new law in Norway requires the permission of a medical board before a woman can have an abortion if she is carrying multiple babies. This procedure is known as ‘foetal reduction’ or ‘selective termination’. If a woman is carrying twins or triplets and wants an abortion, a medical board must be consulted.

The pro-abortion leader of Norway’s Labour Party, Jonas Gahr Støre, strongly opposed the new law, apparently amidst concerns about Alabama’s new pro-life legislation making its way to Norway. Per-Willy Amundsen, a conservative MP, called the “adjustments” to the law “completely natural and defensible changes. They address some ethical problems that are relevant to the highest degree.”

The decision went against the advice of some doctors, who claim that the procedure may carry risks for the health of both the mother and the remaining baby.  

“We have not found any medical benefit from this,” Dr Birgitte Heiberg Kahrs, a specialist in fetal medicine at St Olav’s Hospital in Oslo. “On the contrary, it exposes the second child in the womb to danger as the abortion risk increases.”  

“Our recommendation was that this should only be allowed for twins if one fetus showed developmental abnormalities, and that it should be done between weeks 12 and 14 to reduce the abortion risk.”  

Multifetal pregnancies are becoming increasingly common as a result of IVF treatments, although selective reduction is more commonly carried out when there are three or more fetuses. 

Clare McCarthy of Right To Life said:

“In England and Wales in 2018, there were 111 foetal reduction abortions out of a total of 200,608 abortions. Over the same time period in Norway there were in 12,380 abortions. If similar proportions of women seek foetal reduction in Norway, it is likely therefore that the number of women seeking foetal reduction abortions is extremely small, probably less than 10.

“This is an extremely minor concession which will affect a tiny number of pregnancies, but does have the potential to save the lives of babies.  We therefore welcome this change and hope that it is seen by Norway as a starting point for the introduction of further protections for unborn children and more support for pregnant mothers.”