This was after a Daily Telegraph investigation found that some doctors were agreeing to perform abortions based on the sex of the unborn baby.
Lord Steel of Aikwood, the Liberal Democrat who introduced the original legislation, called for urgent guidance from medical regulators on the issue after the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) dropped a recent case against two doctors after a 19-month police inquiry. They decided it would not be in the ‘public interest’ to prosecute them.
The Director for Public Prosecutions, Kier Starmer, supported the decision of the CPS and said that the ‘outdated’ laws were virtually unenforceable. As part of his analysis, Mr. Starmer used advice from the British Medical Association (BMA), which states that there might be circumstances ‘in which termination of pregnancy on grounds of foetal sex would be lawful’.
The current BMA advice states: ‘The association believes that it is normally unethical to terminate a pregnancy on the grounds of foetal sex alone, except in cases of severe sex-linked disorders’. But it adds that a pregnant woman’s views about the ‘effect of the sex of the foetus on her situation and on her existing children should nevertheless be carefully considered’.
Mr. Starmer said this guidance meant that if a woman said she would be seriously affected by giving birth to a girl, it would ‘provide legal and ethical justification for a termination’.
However, David Burrowes MP said: ‘We in the West are able to tell China and India that it is wrong to abort girls, but the CPS has concluded that it is legal to do it here. It completely undermines our argument on the world stage. The current abortion laws are open to exploitation and abuse’.
Feminist voices have been almost absent from the debate. In a world where women are told they can rightly achieve anything, it appears that being born might be the one thing they can’t do, said one commentator. Discussion in the bottom half of the internet (comments on blogs / news reports) has been around the need for abused women, who are already sentient beings, to have an abortion on whatever grounds they want. A link has been made between high neonatal death rates and the countries with strict abortion laws. However, the obvious response is rarely given, i.e. that perhaps adoption should be promoted more, and for abused women more should be being done to help them out of their abusive circumstances, not just deal with the human result of abuse in an abortion clinic.
Technology the culprit?
Gender abortion is possible due to the ability to reveal the gender of the unborn child to a high degree of accuracy during a hospital scan or by use of blood tests. Anecdotal evidence has shown that many UK hospitals state that they will not always reveal the gender of the baby during a scan. (This author was even told by a clinician that, if an abortion was not going to be considered under any circumstances, then the initial 12-week scan was not worth attending!)
The means of obtaining an abortion has been called into question over recent years, with ‘raids’ on abortion clinics finding forms pre-signed by one of the two doctors who are required to review the woman prior to receiving an abortion. Further to this, the extent of the damage to the woman’s mental health caused by a continuing pregnancy, the most cited reason for an abortion (98% of abortions in 2011), has been questioned. In a BBC Panorama exploration of the subject, it was shown that the risk to the woman’s mental health was no greater if the pregnancy was continued than if it were terminated.
Protect girl babies
The way in which the Act has allowed the UK to get from the point where abortion was illegal only 45 years ago to there being around 200,000 abortions carried out last year should raise a few questions. (This figure does not include use of the ‘morning after pill’.)
Firstly, should the law which was intended to end the obvious dangers of ‘back street abortion’ be reviewed? The circumstances under which an abortion can be obtained have come a long way from those which were initially intended. Baroness Knight of Collingtree, an MP when the Act was passed, said that no one then would have ‘dreamt it was necessary to put an amendment down to protect girl babies’.
Secondly, which laws adopted in more recent times will produce other unintended outcomes? The slippery slope to the ‘consumer’ choice of boys over girls, having a baby later rather than now, repeat abortions where the line between contraception and abortion has become blurred began in 1967. Where will the next 45 years find us with regard to abortion and many other moral and ethical issues? Secular law, adrift from absolute standards of morality, undermines civilisation itself.