Sex selective abortion is morally wrong, but it is not the norm

A <em>Telegraph</em> investigation has found doctors willing to abort babies on the basis of their g

The Department of Health is to look into claims that some doctors are giving women illegal abortions based on the gender of their baby.

An investigation by the Daily Telegraph sent undercover reporters to accompany women to nine clinics in different parts of the UK. In three cases, doctors were secretly filmed agreeing to arrange abortions even when they were told that the reason the woman didn't want to go ahead with the pregnancy was their child's gender. One doctor was recorded saying: "I don't ask questions. If you want a termination, you want a termination".

The Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, said that sex-selection was "illegal and morally wrong", as he asked officials to "urgently" look into this.
Campaigners on both sides of the abortion debate have condemned the findings. Predictably, the pro-life lobby has seized upon the findings as cause to restrict abortion laws. Anthony Ozimic of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children described these "eugenics" as an "inevitable consequence" of easy access to terminations.

There is no question that the abortion of a foetus on the basis of its gender is an immoral practice, and it shouldn't be taking place anywhere in the world. But in a climate where Conservative MPs such as Nadine Dorries are placing pressure on the government to tighten laws around abortion -- in particular, to introduce compulsory counselling before a termination can take place -- it is important that the criminal practices of a minority are not blown out of proportion. And let's not lose sight of the fact that this is a minority. The findings of the Telegraph investigation may be shocking, but they are only three doctors. It's also worth noting that they were all at private clinics, not with the NHS.

Darinka Aleksic, campaign co-ordinator for Abortion Rights told the Guardian that "it is no surprise this has surfaced at a time when anti-choice politicians are trying to introduce new abortion counselling requirements."

Over at Liberal Conspiracy, Sunny Hundal sets the investigation in the context of Dorries' proposals, arguing:

This is being pushed now because the government is in the final stages of putting out a sham consultation on abortion counselling. I say sham because its outcome has already been decided.

Abortion providers must strictly abide by the law and their own professional guidelines, both for moral reasons, and because it is vital that the public retains trust in the system. But while illegal and unpleasant practices should not be tolerated, nor should an arbitrary tightening of restrictions for all terminations, the vast majority of which are carried out within the bounds of the law.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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