Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has written to the Government's senior law officer for “urgent clarification” on why two doctors accused of arranging abortions based on the sex of an unborn baby will not face prosecution.
Mr Hunt said abortion on the grounds of gender selection was “against the law and completely unacceptable“ and has written to Attorney General Dominic Grieve about the decision.
The request comes after an undercover investigation by the Daily Telegraph where reporters secretly filmed doctors at British clinics agreeing to terminate foetuses because they were either male or female.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided that although there was enough evidence to justify a prosecution it would not be in the public interest, instead it recommended the cases continue be dealt with by the General Medical Council (GMC) which had the power to strike doctors off the register, the CPS said.
The fact that the abortions had not actually taken place influenced the decision not to proceed with a prosecution, according to Jenny Hopkins, the deputy chief crown prosecutor for CPS London.
She said, “We have been asked to review two separate allegations against two medical professionals in Birmingham and Manchester concerning requests for an abortion made by a pregnant woman acting on behalf of an investigative journalist.
"Both suspects were doctors and providers of pregnancy terminations at the time of the alleged offences. The undercover operation involved the pregnant woman presenting herself as seeking an abortion on the grounds that she did not want to give birth to a girl. We are satisfied there was no intention to proceed.
“The Abortion Act 1967 allows for an abortion in a limited range of circumstances but not purely on the basis of not wanting a child of a specific gender.
“While the abortions did not take place, attempting to commit a criminal offence - that is, doing something that goes further than just preparing to commit it - is also a crime in its own right under the Criminal Attempts Act 1981.
“Having carefully considered the evidence, we have concluded that although the case is not straightforward, on balance there is enough evidence to justify bringing proceedings for an attempt. Accordingly, we have considered whether a prosecution is required in the public interest.
“One highly relevant factor in this regard is that the responsible professional body, in this case the General Medical Council, is already involved and has the power to remove doctors from the medical register.
“Taking into account the need for professional judgement which deals firmly with wrongdoing, while not deterring other doctors from carrying out legitimate and medically justified abortions, we have concluded that the cases would be better dealt with by the GMC rather than by prosecution.
“In coming to this conclusion, we have also taken into account that in these cases no abortion took place or would have taken place.“
Mr Hunt voiced concern about the decision and demanded clarification about the grounds on which the CPS reached it.
He said, “We are clear that gender selection abortion is against the law and completely unacceptable. This is a concerning development and I have written to the Attorney General to ask for urgent clarification on the grounds for this decision.“
MPs and Campaign groups have joined Mr Hunt in expressing concern at the decision, the paper reports. Some have even said that they will take legal advice on whether they can challenge the decision.
Dr Pater Saunders, chief executive of the Christian Medical Fellowship, who has complained to the police, said, “We seem to have a situation where, at the whim of the CPS, procedures that are clearly laid out in the Abortion Act can be completely disregarded by doctors and the NHS.
“That seems to put doctors above the law and raises questions about the CPS upholding the will of Parliament.
"We seem to have doctors being allowed to reinterpret the law with apparent impunity - it is quite extraordinary.“