The lost girls: Why it has been so difficult to prosecute doctors offering terminations where gender has been an issue

 

Science Editor

Although it is technically illegal under the 1967 Abortion Act, an abortion based on the sex of a foetus can still be carried out if two doctors agree that it is in the best interests of the woman's health. This is one reason why it has been so difficult to prosecute doctors offering terminations where gender has been an issue.

The former director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, articulated the difficulty last October in a letter to the Attorney General Dominic Grieve explaining why he was not going to pursue the prosecution of two doctors allegedly caught offering sex-selective abortions in a "sting" organised by The Daily Telegraph.

"The law does not, in terms, expressly prohibit gender-specific abortions; rather it prohibits any abortion carried out without two medical practitioners having formed a view, in good faith, that the health risks of continuing with a pregnancy outweigh those of termination," Mr Starmer said.

"On the facts of these cases, it would not be possible to prove that either doctor authorised an abortion on gender-specific grounds alone…The only grounds 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 to the 'patient's' health to enable them to come to an opinion in good faith that the risks to her health continuing with the pregnancy outweighed those of termination," he explained.

The other difficulty is the reluctance of ministers to accept that there is a problem. Following the Daily Telegraph's investigation, the Department of Health analysed birth statistics and the sex ratios of children born in the UK to women born abroad and found no significant gender imbalances.

The health department came to the conclusion that there was no evidence for widespread illegality, with women undergoing pregnancy terminations when they carry female foetuses in order, ultimately, to have sons.


The lost girls: Illegal abortion widely used by some UK ethnic groups to avoid daughters 'has reduced female population by between 1,500 and 4,700'
The lost girls: Thousands of ‘missing’ girls revealed by analysis of UK’s 2011 census results
The lost girls: It seems that the global war on girls has arrived in Britain
The lost girls: ‘If you have a girl, you feel you’ve let your husband down’
The lost girls: Girls are still aborted in states with more educated women, by Amartya Sen
The lost girls: Main conclusions of The Independent's study

 

The health minister, Earl Howe, stated categorically last June that the issue had been thoroughly investigated and nothing had been found to suggest that abortions were being carried out on the basis of gender.

"On sex selection, we have no evidence at all of gender-related abortions in the UK. Again, concerns were expressed about this in the press, but analysis has been done that shows that the UK birth ratio is within normal limits," Earl Howe told Parliament.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service and Business Support Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: By developing intimate relationships with inte...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service and Business Support Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Highly successful private company - Oundle bas...

Recruitment Genius: PA to Consultant Surgeon

£25000 - £25500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Service Manager - Franchised Dealership

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific