British MPs vote in favour of ban on sex-based abortions
London: British lawmakers yesterday voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion declaring sex-selection abortion illegal, ending uncertainty over whether doctors can be prosecuted for the practice.
They voted 181 to 1 for a motion brought forward by a cross-party alliance of lawmakers in the House of Commons. It will now have a second reading in January.
Confusion over the law was exposed last year by a decision not to bring charges against two Indian-origin doctors caught on camera agreeing to arrange abortions of baby girls purely because of their sex, revealed by an undercover investigation by The Telegraph newspaper.
The case was investigated by Scotland Yard and passed on to the Crown Prosecution Service which said that although there was enough evidence, it was not in the “public interest” to bring charges.
Doctors in the UK have had wide discretion in assessing whether continuing the pregnancy could threaten the physical or mental health of the mother or her existing children. The problem of gender-based abortions resulting in the killing of girl foetuses is believed to largely be prevalent among British families with their roots in the Indian sub-continent.
Research by the UK Department of Health found no evidence of a high ratio of boys in such communities but campaigners say there is growing anecdotal evidence that gender abortions are secretly being conducted.
Fiona Bruce, the Conservative MP who has drawn up the bill, told Parliament: “It is a shame that this clarification is needed. Successive health minsters and even the Prime Minister have been very clear they state that abortion for reasons of gender alone is illegal.
“The Prime Minister has described the practice as appalling but they are being ignored. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service which provides around 60,000 abortions a year flatly disagrees,” Bruce said.
“Even today they are advising women in one of their leaflets and on their website that abortion for reasons of foetal sex is not illegal because the law is silent on the matter.”
Some campaigners feel that the abortion act must protect women who are under often violent pressure from partners and in-laws to have a male child.
Termination on the basis of gender is illegal under the Abortion Act 1967, but guidance issued by the British Medical Association (BMA) says there “may be circumstances in which termination of pregnancy on the grounds of foetal sex would be lawful” if the mother's physical or mental health may be compromised.
Abortion on the grounds of sex for specific inherited medical conditions is lawful but two doctors must agree before any abortion is carried out.