An MP seeking to criminalise the sex-selective abortions of baby girls has reacted angrily to claims by Britain’s largest private abortion provider that a ban will encourage men to batter their pregnant wives and girlfriends.
Fiona Bruce, the Conservative MP for Congleton, Cheshire, hopes to move an amendment to Section 5 of the Serious Crime Bill which would explicitly outlaw any abortions on grounds of gender.
But days ahead of the Report Stage debate in the House of Commons on Monday, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has published a briefing attacking the amendment.
BPAS said that instead of protecting women from pressure to abort girls, a ban on gender abortions will lead to an increase in assaults by male partners determined to make pregnant mothers miscarry.
“If women are being forced into the abortion of female foetuses at home or abroad or assaulted by partners seeking to cause them a miscarriage, this needs to be taken seriously and acted upon,” the briefing says.
“But the Abortion Act is not the vehicle to do this, and the answer does not lie in further criminalising women.
“It is BPAS’s belief that, far from protecting these women, this amendment could exacerbate their situation while denying other women access to perfectly lawful procedures.”
But Mrs Bruce said it was “utterly wrong” to allow women to be coerced into the abortions of their daughters in the hope that it would reduce instances of domestic violence.
“Sex-selective abortion does not solve domestic abuse,” she said. “Allowing sex selective abortion would not protect women but would condone and exacerbate such abuse.
“It is unconscionable to provide a woman with a sex-selective abortion for her then to return to an abusive partner.”
She continued: “It is utterly wrong to claim women will suffer domestic abuse unless they are able to abort on the grounds of gender – indeed the opposite is the case – unless we support women by opposing this kind of dreadful abuse it will simply continue.”
Mrs Bruce’s amendment, which already has the support of 100 MPs, aims to ensure that an abortion cannot be carried out where the sex of the child is a factor in the woman’s request for an abortion.
It reads: “Nothing in section 1 of the Abortion Act 1967 is to be interpreted as allowing a pregnancy to be terminated on the grounds of the sex of the unborn child.”
BPAS has consistently argued that the Act does not prohibit abortions on grounds of gender. Instead, doctors make a decision whether the continuation of the pregnancy would harm the mental or physical health of the woman irrespective of underlying reasons.
Even though the Government has directed the medical profession to consider sex-selective abortions as unlawful, the view of BPAS is shared by the British Medical Association and also by the prominent Catholic lawyer, Neil Addison, the director of the Thomas More Legal Centre.
In its briefing, BPAS aimed to warn sympathetic MPs that the Bruce amendment would not only force women at risk of domestic violence to continue with pregnancies but also those in situations where they might be suicidal because of the sex of the baby.
It warns them that a sex-selective abortion ban might also limit the right of women to abort disabled children, citing the mother of an autistic boy being stopped from aborting a second son she fears might also have the condition as an example.
BPAS also claims that the Bruce amendment would racially discriminate against women from some South Asian communities, in which sons are often preferred to daughters for cultural reasons.
“It would be reasonable to assume that these women’s requests for abortion would be treated differently from those from any other ethnic community, with doctors compelled to enact some form of racial profiling,” the briefing says.
“South Asian women’s access to abortion services would therefore be compromised, with doctors feeling the need to further probe to uncover her ‘real’ reasons, fearing prosecution for inadvertently authorising a sex-selective abortion.”
Earlier this month, representatives of 25 Christian, Islamic, Hindu and Sikh groups expressed their support for the Bruce amendment.
Mrs Bruce has sought to change the law following revelations in a national newspaper three years ago that some British doctors had agreed to requests to abortions because of the unborn child’s gender. The Crown Prosecution Service refused to bring cases against the doctors involved.
Last year, Mrs Bruce’s Ten Minute Rule Bill proposing a ban on sex-selective abortions was supported by 181 votes to one.