Sussex Centre for Human Rights Research



Sussex researchers oppose proposal to ban sex-selective abortion in the UK

In a letter published in the Telegraph today, academics from Sussex have joined others across the country in opposing an amendment to the Serious Crime Bill which would ban sex-selective abortion in the UK.

The issue of sex-selective abortion was first raised in Parliament in November 2014, when the Abortion (Sex-selection) Bill was given its first reading in Parliament, sponsored by Conservative MP Fiona Bruce. That bill sought to clarify the law around abortion by explicitly banning sex-selective abortion. The bill’s supporters claim that the Abortion Act’s terms do not stretch to allowing sex-selective abortion, but that those terms are insufficiently clear, thus allowing doctors to permit the practice. Whilst Private Members’ Bills such as this rarely proceed to becoming part of UK law (a particularly notable exception being the original Abortion Act of 1967), its first reading culminated in a vote of 184-1 in favour.

The latest proposal would amend Part 5 of the Serious Crime Bill, similarly seeking to make the practice of sex-selective abortion explicitly illegal.

Researchers who in November came to Sussex for the Centre for Reproduction, Technologies and Health workshop on abortion raised concerns about the effect such amendments would have on the freedom to have an abortion in the UK. The letter today published in the Telegraph reads:

"SIR – A proposed amendment to the Serious Crime Bill would make abortion on grounds of sex selection a specific criminal offence (“Gender abortion: it’s time for urgent action”).

Those pushing for this amendment claim abortions are being performed on women coerced into having the procedure, but any doctor in Britain performing an abortion on a woman against her will would already be committing a crime.

We have three main concerns about the proposed amendment. First, it would undermine the professional integrity of those who work in an already overstretched abortion service, as it suggests that they need to be stopped from doing something that constitutes a form of violence and abuse and thus need to be prevented from harming women. This is a serious claim.

Secondly, it risks encouraging doctors to enact some form of ethnic profiling that would, for example, require service providers to question Asian women specifically regarding their reasons for requesting abortion.

Thirdly, it seeks to construe abortion as an offence against “the unborn child”, specifically “the girl”. This is an attempt to secure a legal definition of a pregnancy that recognises the “rights of the unborn” – independent of the pregnant woman – and thus erodes women’s reproductive rights. MPs should seriously consider if they want to take that step."



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Posted on behalf of: Centre for Reproduction, Technologies and Health
Last updated: Wednesday, 28 January 2015