British Members of Parliament recently voted to clarify the status of sex-selection abortion under the Abortion Act of 1967. The MPs voted, 181-1, in favor of banning sex-selection abortion under the British abortion statute. Sex-selection abortion has been a topic of intense focus among legislators after investigators exposed doctors agreeing to perform abortions solely based on a baby’s undesired gender.
The United Kingdom, excluding Northern Ireland, allows abortion up to 24 weeks if the woman can show that the pregnancy carries a greater risk to her than having an abortion, or if the woman would suffer some mental or physical harm by continuing the pregnancy. Abortion is permitted at any time if the woman’s life is in danger, to prevent grave permanent injury, or for fetal abnormalities.
The UK does not permit elective abortion, meaning that a woman has to show some evidence that the previously outlined conditions are met in her situation. In practice, these conditions have been interpreted broadly, resulting in about 1 in 5 pregnancies in the UK ending in abortion. The British MPs recently debated whether a baby’s gender alone could fall under one of these conditions (mental or physical harm, greater risk to life, or fetal abnormalities).
British MPs strongly affirmed that a baby’s gender does not amount to any justification for abortion under the statute. The vote also stands as a strong rebuke to the practice of sex-selection abortion, which usually targets baby girls as less desirable than baby boys.
Some have opposed the sex-selection abortion ban, claiming that sex-selection abortion and “gendercide” (the targeting of a specific gender, most often girls, for abortion) is not a problem for Western countries like the UK. Although the drastic effect of sex-selection abortion is readily visible in countries like China and India, where sex ratios at birth are so skewed as to have almost 119 boys for every 100 girls and 112 boys for every 100 girls, respectively, there is strong evidence that sex-selection abortion is leaving its mark on the UK.
A 2007 Oxford study found that between 1969 and 2005 there was a four-point increase in sex ratio for India-born women living in the UK. The bias toward boys was also more pronounced in a family’s second and third births, where the ratio was 113 boys for every 100 girls. These figures indicate a practice of prenatal sex-selection occurring in Great Britain, especially among immigrant populations.
Another study estimates that between 1993 and 2006, approximately 914 girls are missing from the UK population, mainly from Indian and Pakistani immigrant families. Although data concerning the impact of sex-selection abortion in the UK is still sparse, the few studies that have been conducted confirm that sex-selection abortion is occurring in significant numbers.
A second reading of the new bill is scheduled for January 23, 2015 with the hope on the part of its sponsors that disapproval of sex-selection abortion will eventually become part of the law. Western countries, like the UK, do not now reflect the drastic sex ratio disparities of China and India, but the British vote to ban sex-selection abortion affirms that no baby should be aborted just because she is a girl or he is a boy.
Angelina Baglini Nguyen is an Associate Scholar of the Charlotte Lozier Institute.