Pro-life advocates are expressing outrage at an announcement last Monday by the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) that states physicians are now free to carry out sex selection abortions. Up until this point, abortions based solely on the sex of an unborn child were widely considered illegal in the UK.
Keir Starmer QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, issued a statement regarding reasons why authorities decided not to prosecute two abortionists caught in an undercover sting agreeing to sex selection abortions.
CPS decided it would not be in “the public interest” to prosecute the doctors. Guidance issued by the British Medical Association (BMA) advised physicians “there may be circumstances in which termination of pregnancy on grounds of fetal sex would be lawful.”
“It is normally unethical to terminate a pregnancy on the grounds of fetal sex alone,” the guidance stated. “The pregnant woman’s views about the effect of the sex of the fetus on her situation and on her existing children should nevertheless be carefully considered.”
Starmer said that guidance for doctors should be updated amid widespread concern over practices in abortion clinics that do not appear to be illegal.
“The law does not, in terms, expressly prohibit gender-specific abortions,” Starmer said. “Rather it prohibits any abortion carried out without two medical practitioners having formed a view, in good faith, that the health risks of continuing with a pregnancy outweigh those of termination.”
In February of 2012, the Telegraph reported that, despite the fact that sex selection abortion is illegal in Britain, doctors were found to be agreeing to terminate a pregnancy solely on the basis of the sex of the unborn child.
Telegraph reporters accompanied pregnant women to nine abortion clinics throughout the country. In three of these facilities, doctors were recorded “offering to arrange terminations after being told the mother-to-be did not want to go ahead with the pregnancy because of the sex of the unborn child.”
One abortionist, Dr. Prabha Sivaraman, a consultant who works for both private abortion clinics and National Health Service (NHS) hospitals in Manchester, told a pregnant woman who said she wished to abort her baby because it was a female, “I don’t ask questions. If you want a termination, you want a termination.”
The report launched an investigation into abortion practices by the Department of Health.
Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary at the time, said, “I’m extremely concerned to hear about these allegations. Sex selection is illegal and is morally wrong. I’ve asked my officials to investigate this as a matter of urgency.”
Current Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt expressed alarm at the CPS decision.
“We are clear that gender selection abortion is against the law and completely unacceptable,” Hunt said.
Attorney General Dominic Grieve, however, said he was satisfied that Starmer had made the decision “properly and conscientiously.”
“I welcome the reconsideration that the Director of Public Prosecutions has given these cases,” he said. “After the discussions I have now had with the director, and seeing the documents he has published today, I understand that the question in these cases was not whether this was a gender-specific abortion, but whether the doctors made a proper, considered medical judgment.”
According to the Huffington Post, a spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said, “People are right to be outraged that some parents are seeking to use abortion as a means of gender selection. It is the worst form of discrimination to kill a baby because she is the ‘wrong’ gender.”
Though Asian nations are often believed to engage in the most sex selection, new data from the 2013 CIA World Factbook shows European countries are engaging in more sex selection than ever before.
A report in Pacific Standard finds that sex selective abortion practices occur usually in poor families in cultures in which male children are given greater economic and social status than female children. As a result, if parents strive for smaller families due to poor economic conditions in these societies, they will more often choose boys over girls.
For example, a recent study in The Lancet showed an increase in sex-selective abortion in India. In particular, female unborn children are most likely to be aborted when the first-born child is also a female.
Liechtenstein, according to the CIA World Factbook, is the country with the most skewed sex ratio at birth of 1.26 males to females, followed by Curacao at 1.16, Azerbaijan at 1.13, then China, India, and Vietnam, all at 1.12. Albania and Armenia come in at 1.11, followed by Georgia at 1.10, and Macedonia and Kosovo – both at 1.08.
Pacific Standard provides some analysis:
The reason we find this newest 2013 data of particular interest is that, despite the popular Western focus on Asia, the practice occurs in more European countries. Perhaps most striking is the central European country that ranks at the top of the list–Liechtenstein. This strikes us as odd, given that Liechtenstein has never made this list in the past. Perhaps this is a data collection error (in very small populations, as also in Curacao, the results can be skewed). But we are surprised that no journalists have picked up on the fact that the worst offending son-preference country in the world is now, allegedly, a European country.
Pacific Standard notes the results showing Liechtenstein as the country with the most skewed sex ratio is somewhat ironic since it is the nation with the most restrictive laws against abortion in Europe.
The U.S. sex ratio at birth is considered to be in the normal range at 1.05. However, a 2011 Gallup poll showed that when asked about gender preference if they were only able to have one child, most Americans would prefer a boy, an outcome that is relatively unchanged from the same survey question Gallup asked in 1941.