On sex-selective abortion, feminism proves to be the Goddess that Failed

'The current legal situation regarding sex- selective abortion is highly ambiguous'

The Moral Maze on Radio 4 on Saturday night was unsatisfactory as always. This is because morality is treated as merely subjective, without regard to objective laws, and listeners who have not already sorted out what they believe, are left in the same “maze” as before. On the regular panel Claire Fox is generally bleakly pragmatic and Melanie Phillips generally angry and hectoring. It is a very British programme: serious moral concerns are aired, more or less politely, and then left when they began – up in the air.

This week’s subject was on the rights and wrongs of gender-specific abortions i.e. the legality of aborting baby girls (no culture ever mentions aborting baby boys, I note). This follows a recent news item, that doctors have been aborting baby girls in this country with impunity. The resulting furore from Christians has led to a statement from Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, reported in the Telegraph on October 8: prosecuting the doctors involved would not be in the public interest. This ruling he has now explained in a painfully clear fashion: the British Medical Association had advised that “there may be circumstances in which termination of pregnancy on the grounds of foetal sex may be lawful.”

Starmer went on to state that “The law does not, in terms, expressly forbid gender-specific abortions; 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.”

It seems that Starmer rightly feared a prosecution would fail, because “the discretion afforded to doctors under the current law in assessing the risk to the mental or physical health of a patient is wide, and having consulted an experienced consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology, it appears that there is no generally accepted approach among the medical profession.” He concluded that, had a prosecution been mounted, “there is a real risk that different juries would reach different decisions on essentially the same facts.”

I don’t blame Starmer for his conclusions here; it is the wording of the 1967 Abortion Act that is at fault. In reality, as all who have studied this law and its consequences know, whether they believe in the women’s “right to choose” or the sanctity of unborn life, the interpretation of the wording about “the physical or mental health of a patient” is indeed so very “wide” that doctors can get away with murder. What doctor would gainsay the testimony of a woman who tells him that continuing with a pregnancy, including that of a baby girl, is causing her intolerable stress?

In the Moral Maze, Melanie Phillips was appalled at the way the Abortion Act is routinely being abused, while Clare Fox thought that women, rather than the two doctors specified, should take responsibility for their choices in pregnancy. This seems a bit disingenuous: pregnant women do control the situation entirely; doctors are either too frightened or too indifferent to do other than agree with them. Of the other speakers, Professor Wendy Savage, an avowed feminist, related a highly emotional anecdote about failing a desperate friend who died after a back-street abortion.

This almost silenced everyone; the single dissenter, Dr Trevor Stammers, who spoke with 30 years’ experience of general practice, was totally ignored when he tried to put forward the point that he had known of women who had been suicidal as a result of having had an abortion. It shows that in a general public discourse on this subject, it is simply not possible to talk about the psychological problems women may experience after abortion; it goes too much against the accepted narrative.

And where are the feminists in this debate, defending their unborn baby sisters, friends and future fellow women? Their silence is deafening. If I had ever been sympathetic to the arguments of feminists, this would have been the moment where I walked away. Just as former Communists have written of their disillusionment with Marxism in the classic text, “The God That Failed”, isn’t it time for ideological feminists to admit they were wrong and now write about “The Goddess That Failed”?