A cross-party group of women MPs wants the abortion law to be clarified to make it explicitly illegal for doctors to abort foetuses on grounds of gender alone.
Eleven female MPs from all three major political parties are backing a 10-minute rule Bill today that aims to make it clear to doctors that it is unlawful to carry out sex-selective abortions.
The Independent early this year published data suggesting that about 1,400 girls are “missing” from the National Census records because of the selective abortion of female foetuses within certain ethnic communities.
Fiona Bruce, a Conservative MP, will introduce the Bill on the grounds that there is confusion over whether the practice is legal in Britain, despite the Department of Health stating that gender-based abortions carried out in the UK are illegal.
“The law needs to be clarified, and women who are under pressure to terminate on the grounds of sex need to be offered alternatives,” Ms Bruce said.
The British Medical Association has said that sex-selective abortions could be justified on the grounds of the mental health of pregnant women, while the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which carries out most NHS abortions, has argued that the law is “silent” on whether it is illegal to abort on the basis of the sex of the foetus.
Rani Bilku, a spokeswoman for the women’s rights charity Jeena International, said that many women from some ethnic groups come under pressure to abort female foetuses because of their husbands' desire for sons.
“Despite intensive lobbying, the Government has offered no help, besides stating that sex-selective abortion is illegal,” Ms Bilku said.
“This Bill is a chance to fight what we believe to be the first violence against women and girls, and to try to combat the social and cultural problems which lead to it,” she said.
Although the Abortion (Sex-Selection) Bill has little chance of becoming law, it could stimulate the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to bring forward regulations to ensure that the law is upheld to prevent women from being coerced into aborting female foetuses, Ms Bilku added.