​Gender-selective abortion could become criminal offence

Reuters / Alex Lee
MPs will debate on Monday whether performing an abortion on gender grounds should become a criminal offence.

The amendment to the Serious Crime Bill, known as the Abortion (Sex-Selection) Bill, is designed to make it clear to doctors that it is illegal to terminate pregnancies because of the sex of the fetus.

Tory MP Fiona Bruce brought the proposed legislation forward.

“[The Bill] merely clarifies that nothing in section one of the Abortion Act 1967 allows a pregnancy to be terminated on the grounds of the sex of the unborn child,” she said.

“We know sex-selective abortions are happening in the UK and little is being done to stop this,” she added.

Asked his view during a visit to Hastings on Monday, Prime Minister David Cameron said: “I support the status quo whereby abortion on gender grounds is not legal, it is not allowed under our arrangements.

“Now, there are very few circumstances, for example avoiding the certainty of genetic disease, that it might be allowed, so I support that and I will be voting – if I'm in the House of Commons this afternoon which I hope to be – to maintain the status quo.

“But in doing so, I hope that the abortion rules are properly policed and prosecutions and all the rest of it are carried out when the laws are broken,” the prime minister said.

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Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve MP backed the amendment. He said that sex-selective abortions took place in the UK because people were able to abuse the 1967 Abortion Act, which came into law before the use of ultrasound to determine a baby’s gender was widespread.

Grieve wrote in the Daily Telegraph that the current law has been turned into “little more than a rubber stamp for abortion on demand” and that urgent reform was needed.

He urged MPs to support the amendment, saying: “We should not allow the present law to limp on in this state any longer.”

However, Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, told Labour MPs that the bill could have “troubling wider consequences.”

Cooper and shadow cabinet member Liz Kendall urged Labour MPs to vote against the bill. They said sex-selective abortions are already illegal under the Abortion Act so new legislation is not needed.

“Fiona Bruce’s amendment also has wider troubling consequences for gender specific abnormalities.”

“The amendment says that ‘nothing in the act gives grounds for abortion based on sex’ – creating uncertainty and doubt for doctors who have to administer abortions in these situations and a legal grey area for women who are already facing a very difficult decision.”

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The issue has also sparked a debate on social media. Earlier this month, an American woman wrote a blog post on a site called Injustice Stories, in which she claimed to have aborted her baby because it was a boy.

The woman, calling herself Lana, said she’s a feminist and claimed she “couldn't bring another monster [a man] into the world.”

The post, however, could be a hoax, as the veracity of her claims has not been established.

Following a spate of negative reaction, Lana produced a follow up article.

“I cannot believe some of the emails that have been forwarded to me. Do people really exist who want to see me dead because of what I chose to do with my own body?”

The debate will cause renewed focus on abortion rights and pro-life sentiments.