'An appalling practice': David Cameron vows to fight sex-selective abortions
Steve Connor is the Science Editor of The Independent and i. He has won many awards for his journalism, including five-times winner of the prestigious British science writers’ award; the David Perlman Award of the American Geophysical Union; four times highly commended as specialist journalist of the year in the UK Press Awards; UK health journalist of the year and a special merit award of the European School of Oncology for his investigations into the tobacco industry. He has a degree in zoology from the University of Oxford and has a special interest in genetics and medical science, human evolution and origins, climate change and the environment.
Wednesday 19 March 2014
The Prime Minister David Cameron said today that sex-selective abortions – where female foetuses are deliberately destroyed because they are the “wrong sex” – are appalling and that he is determined to raise the matter with Britain’s chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies.
Mr Cameron told parliament that aborting foetuses because they are girls is “simply an appalling practice” and needs to be challenged within the ethnic communities where it might be a problem, not least because it is illegal in the UK.
In answer to a question from Paul Uppal MP, Mr Cameron said that Dame Sally and the Department of Health are preparing new guidance to doctors over abortions which will try to tackle the pressure that some pregnant women face to have sons in preference to daughters.
The Independent published an interview on Saturday with a young British-born mother of Pakistani parentage who said that she was pressured by her husband to have two abortions after pregnancy scans had shown that the foetuses she was carrying were female.
This followed our revelations earlier this year, based on an analysis of the 2011 national census records suggesting that up to 4,500 girls may be “missing” from the census data of England and Wales because of sex-selective abortions either in the UK or abroad within certain ethnic minorities.
Mr Uppal, MP for Wolverhampton south west, said that he raised the issue at Prime Minister’s questions in the House of Commons after seeing The Independent’s coverage and realising from discussions with his own constituents that there is a hidden problem within some ethnic groups.
“I’ve had conversations with people who’ve told me it’s going on and I trust what they are telling me. It’s a very subtle pressure on women to have sons. The expectation is there – I’ve seen it first hand myself,” Mr Uppal said.
“By talking about it and raising the profile, I’d like to take on the cultural pressure within families to have boys. Some Asians have such a preference for boys that they even define themselves by how many they have,” said Mr Uppal, who is from a Sikh background and has two daughters and a son.
“Anecdotally, I’ve had conversations with people about the pressure within extended families to have boys and how women sometimes come under pressure to abort foetuses if they are girls,” he said.
Earl Howe, the health minister, has said that there is no evidence for sex-selective abortions in the UK and that there are other explanations for The Independent’s census findings.
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