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Gender-based Abortions Are Illegal, but Still Offered by Some Clinics

Posted on the 23 February 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
Gender-based abortions are illegal, but still offered by some clinics

Pro-choice campaigners in London. Photocredit: Geshmally

The way that abortion is regulated has come under close scrutiny once again. The Daily Telegraph has investigated nine abortion clinics, and found that three were prepared to terminate a foetus on the basis of its gender. So called “sex-selection” is against the law. Consultants were allegedly recorded, said The Daily Mail, saying that they would falsify paperwork. The investigation took undercover reporters to nine clinics across the country, and on three separate ocasions doctors agreed to the gender-based abortion.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC), which carries out the regulation of abortion clinics as well as of old peoples’ homes, is now under question. Under the 1967 Abortion Act two doctors must agree that the risks to a woman’s mental or physical health will be greater if the pregnancy is continued than if it’s ended. Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has ordered an investigation. The real question is: why has this investigation been carried out now? Is it because the government is due to put through a law putting limits on abortion? In the context of Nadine Dorries MP, who last year called for more regulation in abortion, it looks like battle lines are being drawn up.

Questions need to be asked. Most of the clinics, said The Daily Telegraph‘s editorial, refused to carry out the request for a gender-based abortion. However, there are obviously “serious flaws” in regulating abortion clinics. The CQC has overseen a decline in care for the elderly: perhaps it has too wide a “remit” and can’t “focus properly” on either function. The investigation shows that “abortion on demand” is “routine.” The Abortion Act is “more honoured in the breach than the observance.” One consultant investigated by the Telegraph “displayed no surprise” on being asked to carry out an abortion “to give a family the required gender balance.” No counseling was offered either (though this isn’t a legal requirement.) We have 200,000 abortions a year. This gives us an “unenviable reputation” for “commercialisation.” “It is important that today’s revelations lead to action.”

Can a gender-based abortion ever be defended? Holly Watt in The Daily Telegraph said it wasn’t clear how the 1967 Abortion Act could be interpreted. Some academics argue that under the mental health provision you might be able to defend a gender-based abortion.  She quoted Professor Sally Sheldon, an expert in medical law and ethics at Kent Law School: “If you had a case where you’ve got a woman who comes from a culture where there is a very heavy weight attached to having sons and she has had two daughters already and she is living with her in-laws and they are saying they will throw her out if she has another female child . . . I think a doctor could take a good faith view that it is in her interest to have an abortion, that it would pose a risk to her mental or physical health.”

But these are the acts of only a minority. There’s no question that aborting foetuses on a gender basis is “immoral”, said Samira Shackle on The New Statesman‘s blog. But when you’ve got Nadine Dorries pressurising government to tighten laws around abortion, it’s “important” to remember that the “criminal practices of a minority” are “not blown out of proprtion.” It’s worth noticing also that the three clinics investigated by the Telegraph were private clinics, not on the NHS. Whilst “illegal and unpleasant practices should not be tolerated, nor should an arbitrary tightening of restrictions for all terminations.”

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