23 FEB 2015

Why I will not be voting to undermine the Abortion Act

There is no doubt that female foeticide, notably in China, India and Korea, is distorting the gender balance of their societies and devaluing women and girls. That has consequences for all women reinforcing disempowerment and a lesser status.

There is no room for complacency in the UK and we need to remain vigilant.

The Department of Health has updated their analysis of male to female birth rates with data from 2008-2012 and this now includes ethnicity. Without exception, birth ratios were within the expected range for all UK communities, including analysis by ethnicity and birth order.

There may be individual cases but it would be entirely wrong to stigmatise entire communities in Britain by suggesting that this is in any way a common or systematic practice here ...it is not.

For those individual women who do feel under pressure not to continue with a pregnancy purely on the grounds of gender, Fiona Bruce's proposed amendment to the Serious Crimes Bill, will have unintended consequences. Far from protecting them, fear of criminalisation means that these women will not attend their doctor's surgery or clinic prepared to discuss the pressures they face but will present with an entirely different reason for requesting a termination of pregnancy. The opportunity will be lost to talk about any threats or actual domestic violence an individual may face for giving birth to female children.

The amendment is also unnecessary because doctors already know that it is against the law to carry out an abortion solely because of the gender of the foetus unless there are other grounds, for example the risk of a sex-linked inherited medical condition. The updated guidance from the Department of Health and the Chief Medical Officer clearly allows the Director of Public Prosecutions to prosecute should any cases arise. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives have made it clear that they consider the amendment unnecessary as sex selection is already unlawful. Their members know this.

If passed there is a grave danger however, that it will create uncertainty in the law for those families affected by serious sex-linked medical conditions for example X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency syndrome and X-linked spinal muscular atrophy. There are a number of these conditions and it is not always possible to detect them by genetic testing. The proposed amendment may make it impossible for these families to retain the choice not to proceed with pregnancies where there is a risk of one of these terrible diseases.

There is another reason to oppose the amendment and that is because it is a veneer, its underlying effect will be to erode the Abortion Act. The term 'unborn child' within this amendment completely changes the framework of abortion law. Across our legislation and common law, children are afforded a wide range of protections and rights that are not afforded to the foetus.

It would be entirely wrong to effect such a major change on the basis of a short debate on an amendment sneaked onto the coat tails of wording which appears at first sight to have the intention of protecting women.

This is a Trojan horse. The underlying agenda of many of those behind this amendment is to erode women's access to safe and legal abortion altogether and I will be voting against it.

6 comments

Thank you for voting against this, and for speaking out.
- Cicely

Thank you. I agree with everything you had said. I do wish people would also be brave enough to stand by the pro-choice principle completely though. That sex-selective abortions happen is horrible for what it indicates - that some value women and girls less than men and boys. We absolutely should work on tackling gender discrimination. But abortion rights shouldn't even be up for discussion. Women shouldn't be forced to continue with a pregnancy. At all. What their reasons are for not wanting to do so is irrelevant.
- Nic

Thank you for taking this seriously and thank you for your decision to vote against this amendment.
- Claire

I have recently been made aware of your comments about stigmatising communities. I am incredulous at the logic - where something is wrong, it is important that we say so. Sex selective abortion is wrong and whoever is guilty of it, from whichever community should be brought to justice.
- Paul

Paul is right. The argument about "stigmatising communities" is disingenuous. Perhaps FGM should be allowed?
- David

Doctors are going around the law - as the Telegraph investigation proved. A private prosecution, as the CPS disregarded their duty, was started. It has now been taken over by the CPS and shut down. They must have waited until the vote was lost before doing this, knowing full well that had they shut it down before the vote it would have proven that the existing law is not being enforced. Whether you agree or not with the law as it currently stands, it's highly deceitful to claim that it is being enforced when it's plain as day that it isn't. This is an attempt to pretend it's being enforced so as to prevent the new amendment going ahead, which would make sure we protected female babies. And if the existing law isn't being enforced, and you are opposed to the amendment that clarifies it, then ipso facto you are saying that you agree that the current position of allowing female foeticide in practice but not in name is acceptable. The numbers are also secondary, would we allow the murder of born female children as long the numbers were low and it was done by nice people and mostly ignored so as not to trouble us when we read the newspaper at breakfast? Of course not.
- EK

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