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.