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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Leader: Boris Johnson, a liar and a charlatan

The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. 

Boris Johnson is a liar, a charlatan and a narcissist. In 1988, when he was a reporter at the Times, he fabricated a quotation from his godfather, an eminent historian, which duly appeared in a news story on the front page. He was sacked. (We might pause here to acknowledge the advantage to a young journalist of having a godfather whose opinions were deemed worthy of appearing in a national newspaper.) Three decades later, his character has not improved.

On 17 September, Mr Johnson wrote a lengthy, hyperbolic article for the Daily Telegraph laying out his “vision” for Brexit – in terms calculated to provoke and undermine the Prime Minister (who was scheduled to give a speech on Brexit in Florence, Italy, as we went to press). Extracts of his “article”, which reads more like a speech, appeared while a terror suspect was on the loose and the country’s threat level was at “critical”, leading the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, to remark: “On the day of a terror attack where Britons were maimed, just hours after the threat level is raised, our only thoughts should be on service.”

Three other facets of this story are noteworthy. First, the article was published alongside other pieces echoing and praising its conclusions, indicating that the Telegraph is now operating as a subsidiary of the Johnson for PM campaign. Second, Theresa May did not respond by immediately sacking her disloyal Foreign Secretary – a measure of how much the botched election campaign has weakened her authority. Finally, it is remarkable that Mr Johnson’s article repeated the most egregious – and most effective – lie of the EU referendum campaign. “Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week,” the Foreign Secretary claimed. “It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”

This was the promise of Brexit laid out by the official Vote Leave team: we send £350m to Brussels, and after leaving the EU, that money can be spent on public services. Yet the £350m figure includes the rebate secured by Margaret Thatcher – so just under a third of the sum never leaves the country. Also, any plausible deal will involve paying significant amounts to the EU budget in return for continued participation in science and security agreements. To continue to invoke this figure is shameless. That is not a partisan sentiment: the head of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, denounced Mr Johnson’s “clear misuse of official statistics”.

In the days that followed, the chief strategist of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings – who, as Simon Heffer writes in this week's New Statesman, is widely suspected of involvement in Mr Johnson’s article – added his voice. Brexit was a “shambles” so far, he claimed, because of the ineptitude of the civil service and the government’s decision to invoke Article 50 before outlining its own detailed demands.

There is a fine Yiddish word to describe this – chutzpah. Mr Johnson, like all the other senior members of Vote Leave in parliament, voted to trigger Article 50 in March. If he and his allies had concerns about this process, the time to speak up was then.

It has been clear for some time that Mr Johnson has no ideological attachment to Brexit. (During the referendum campaign, he wrote articles arguing both the Leave and Remain case, before deciding which one to publish – in the Telegraph, naturally.) However, every day brings fresh evidence that he and his allies are not interested in the tough, detailed negotiations required for such an epic undertaking. They will brush aside any concerns about our readiness for such a huge challenge by insisting that Brexit would be a success if only they were in charge of it.

This is unlikely. Constant reports emerge of how lightly Mr Johnson treats his current role. At a summit aiming to tackle the grotesque humanitarian crisis in Yemen, he is said to have astounded diplomats by joking: “With friends like these, who needs Yemenis?” The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. By extension, he demeans our politics. 

This article first appeared in the 21 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The revenge of the left