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.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.