Anger over gender-selection abortion guidance

Published 09 October 2013  |  
AP

The Christian Legal Centre and Society for the Protection of Unborn Children have criticised new guidance from the Director of Public Prosecutions saying that abortions on the basis of gender are lawful in certain circumstances.

DPP Keir Starmer QC based his conclusions on guidance from the British Medical Association stating that although it is "normally unethical" to terminate a pregnancy on the grounds of gender alone, it could be permitted if there is deemed to be sufficient risk to the pregnant woman and her existing children.

"The pregnant woman's views about the effect of the sex of the fetus on her situation and on her existing children should nevertheless be carefully considered," the BMA guidance states.

"In some circumstances doctors may come to the conclusion that the effects are so severe as to provide legal and ethical justification for a termination."

The statement from the DPP was in response to an undercover investigation by The Daily Telegraph in which two doctors, known as Dr S and Dr R, were secretly filmed giving their consent to abortions on the grounds of gender.

The Crown Prosecution Service said it was not in the public interest to prosecute and the DPP echoed this, saying that there was insufficient evidence to do so and that "public interest factors against prosecution outweigh those in favour."

"The law does not, in terms, expressly prohibit gender-specific abortions; rather it prohibits any abortion carried out without two medical practitioners having formed a view, in good faith, that the health risks of continuing with a pregnancy outweigh those of termination," he said.

"On the facts of these cases, it would not be possible to prove that either doctor authorised an abortion on gender-specific grounds alone. Dr S said she did not believe that the 'patient' actually knew the gender of her baby.

"In both cases the 'patient' gave mixed reasons for wanting a termination, making reference to a previous female pregnancy which had gone wrong because of an alleged chromosomal abnormality, thus making it impossible to prove that either doctors authorised a termination solely on the grounds of the sex of the baby."

The Christian Legal Centre accused the Crown Prosecution Service of being "unwilling" to uphold the law and said it would be pursuing legal action.

Chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre Andrea Minchiello Williams said: "This response from the DPP shows that the Abortion Act isn't worth the paper it's written on. It allows doctors to do whatever they like 'in good faith'.

"It appears there is now no limit on what constitutes a 'mental health risk' to the mother. What if a woman wants a termination because she doesn't like the skin colour or eye colour of her child? Where do we draw the line?

"It was hard to imagine how things could get any worse after the CPS' decision not to prosecute even though it had found enough evidence to do so. But Keir Starmer's failure to call the CPS to account takes things to a new low.

"His refusal to right this wrong means that doctors who agree to arrange illegal sex-selective abortions get off scot free. The is a grave miscarriage of justice and is abhorrent to the vast majority of Britons."

Paul Tully, general secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, commented: "The issue has clearly embarrassed the prosecuting authority.

"That embarrassment arises ultimately because the Department of Health under successive Secretaries of State not only refuses to ensure that doctors implement the grounds in the Abortion Act - providing abortions only when the grounds are met - but actually encourages doctors to offer abortion to any woman who says she wants one."

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