Britain’s abortion laws are inherently absurd

8 October 2013

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, yesterday declared that it was right not to prosecute doctors who authorised abortions which, according to a Telegraph investigation, were requested because of the gender of the foetus. It seems that the women mentioned more than one reason for the abortions so it wasn’t possible to isolate the gender selection element from the other factors.

‘The only basis for a prosecution would be that although we could not prove these doctors authorised a gender-specific abortion, they did not carry out a sufficiently robust assessment of the risks,’ he said.

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And just what might a ‘robust’ assessment of risk amount to? As Mr Starmer made clear it’s possible for doctors to authorise an abortion without actually ever having seen the woman concerned. On this basis, pretty well any abortion is justified, on the basis that any pregnancy, carried to term, would be worse for the mental or physical health of the mother than not carrying on with it. Which may of course be true. But it wasn’t quite what parliament was led to believe when it passed the Abortion Act in 1967 on the basis that the written consent of two doctors would be some sort of guarantee that it would only happen in serious cases.

Mr Starmer has, in fact, pointed out the inherent absurdity of the present law on abortion. As indeed did Ann Furedi of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service when she observed that the present law did not prohibit abortion on the basis of gender…which it doesn’t, not specifically. That set the Guardian’s website alight, as did one of its bloggers, Sarah Ditum, who wrote that a woman’s right to choose shouldn’t be curtailed on the basis of the gender of the foetus.

I’m in two minds about it myself. Obviously, not about aborting a foetus on the basis that it’s a girl foetus. But about the premise that it’s just fine to kill that same foetus on the basis of…well, pretty well anything at all so long as it’s not on the grounds of gender. Because you feel like it.

What were meant to be the safeguards around the Abortion Act are a joke, a token, procedural hypocrisy, a mere form which involves no possible impediment to an abortion taking place. I’ve never myself come across anyone being denied an abortion because her pregnancy really wasn’t a threat to her mental or physical well being. And if it takes the disgusting and discriminatory practice of gender-selection to bring home this obvious truth, well some good has come out of the Telegraph investigation.

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Show comments
  • stag

    Yes, quite: the issue is not so much the circumscribed one of gender-based abortion – though that is disgusting – but the utter absence of any meaningful restrictions on the alleged ‘right’ to abort.

    This country urgently needs to revisit the Abortion Act. The disability clause needs seriously amended or entirely removed. Gender-selection needs to be specifically outlawed. Criminal penalties need to be introduced for doctors who play fast and loose. The time limit needs to be reduced (the lower the better, as far as I am concerned, up to and including zero; but 12 weeks would be a significant improvement).

  • Fred Scuttle

    Unfortunately, in the real world, abortion must remain legal. So we are stuck with it.

  • PaderB

    Anyone hearing of this would be forgiven for thinking that we live under a Chinese ‘one child’ regime.

  • Knives_and_Faux

    Any abortion should be followed up by removal of the womb.

    • Fred Scuttle

      Any comment like that should be followed up by the removal of the brain. Oops, too late!

    • Samuel Williams

      And a vasectomy for the responsible male?

  • Bonkim

    Abortion should not be carried out by the public funded NHS except where continuation of pregnancy will harm the mother’s body. Abortion as a lifestyle choice should be left to the private clinics.

    • Samuel Williams

      What about if the mother is not capable of managing a baby, does not have her life sorted out, or the baby was due to rape?

      • Bonkim

        Special circumstances and for medical reasons yes – but not for lifestyle choice, gender selection, etc. People should be responsible for their actions and given the exploding populations across the globe – need for pro-active birth control, even sterilisation of groups that are not able to take responsibility..

        • Samuel Williams

          What constitutes a lifestyle choice? What if someone is in a good relationship but doesn’t want a baby, is using birth control but it fails, should they be allowed to have an abortion?

          Eugenics (non-voluntary sterilisation) has in all cases that I know of been an incredibly negative influence on the human race.

          • Bonkim

            The human race is doomed – populations exploding across the globe and resources depleting fast – not much of a future for a new baby on earth.

  • David Lindsay

    It is time for an amendment specifically banning sex-selective abortions.

    Not a Private Member’s Bill, which would stand very little chance of ever being enacted. An amendment to a Government Bill.

    It would be useful to see who would vote against it. But the number would be extremely small. This would sail through. Until recent hours, everyone had thought that it was already the law, and almost everyone had thought that it ought to be.

    • Kennybhoy

      Aye. Seconded.

    • Samuel Williams

      Yeah, wouldn’t this just encourage women to be dishonest when discussing the issues with their health care provider?

      Consider the following: If a woman knows that she will be rejected on the grounds of gender, she may make up something else and go ahead with the abortion.

      The alternative is that she could tell the truth, and get counselling to support her with the issues which are leading her to this decision. Then, at the end of the day, she could make an informed decision with the best possibility for rational judgement.

  • John Airey

    Of course – there’s always the possibility that a woman is being coerced into an abortion. I bet not one abortion provider would refuse to carry it out – after all they are making money from abortion and clearly there’s no legal oversight of what is going on. Is this really any better than “backstreet” abortions?

  • Tom M

    Reading about the way the law on abortion has become, well an abortion. Can you imagine what would happen if our revered law givers produced a law to cope with the assisted suicide issue?

  • Yvonne Gordon

    David, You don’t even have to do that. Just stop people being given the gender of their child when they have a scan. It isn’t necessary to know unless there is a type of gender specific disease that the parents might be passing on. I am sure most people would be happy to wait a little longer to find out what colour the babies room should be decorated.

    • David J Noble

      I do agree, I totally agree, and did mention that in my last comment (last thing) “Or make foetus gender information before a certain date illegal, full stop.” . Obviously there is always an exception and we run the risk of the “back street” scan … twtr DavidJNoble

      • Yvonne Gordon

        I don’t think we can win on this one, if people are determined to find out then they will.

        • David J Noble

          you are probably right … people will be going on “scan” holiday’s … a decision really has to be taken at a European level .

    • Fred Scuttle

      A very sensible suggestion.

  • David J Noble

    why can’t we make an abortion illegal “once the gender is known” , unless other medical elements down the line enter into the equation . Therefore, there is a social responsibility in asking to know what the gender is . Or make foetus gender information before a certain date illegal, full stop.

    • Charles Findlay

      It’s a child…not a choice.

      • David J Noble

        I don’t understand your comment . This is not a discussion about whether abortion is right or wrong … acknowledging that abortion rights exists under current law, we need to focus on the wrong of gender abortion .

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