Britain’s MPs fail to ban gender-related abortion

MPs have voted against clarifying Britain’s abortion laws to establish beyond dispute that gender-related abortion is illegal.

Conservative MP Fiona Bruce had proposed an amendment to the Serious Crimes Bill that nothing in the 1967 Abortion Act should be interpreted as allowing sex-selected abortion.

Opposed on the day, however, by Prime Minister David Cameron, with shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper and the Trade Union Congress having written to Labour MPs in advance, urging them to reject the amendment, the proposal was eventually defeated by 291 votes to 201.

In introducing the amendment, Ms Bruce said she wished not “to change the law on abortion, as some have said, but to confirm and clarify it”.

The Prime Minister had said such a clarification was unnecessary, given how “abortion on gender grounds is not legal, it is not allowed under our arrangements”, but both the British Medical Association and Britain’s leading abortion provider, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, maintain the law does not prohibit abortions on grounds of gender.

Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve wrote in advance of the vote that both views are technically correct.

The problem, he said, is that the law makes no specific statement on sex-selective abortion; there was “a powerful case for trying to clarify the law”, he said, as it is “being abused”.

Prosecution

Under the 1861 Offenses against the Person Act, abortion remains technically illegal in Britain, where over 190,000 abortions took place in 2013. The 1967 Act outlines a number of grounds under which doctors are exempt from prosecution if they perform abortions, with 97% of Britain’s abortions taking place when two doctors certify that the continuance of the pregnancy would risk greater damage to the mental health of the mother than termination.

Current advice from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is that there is no evidence that women’s mental health suffers more from continuing pregnancies rather than having abortions.