The Nobel prize-winning scientist who discovered DNA yesterday threatened to sue over a newspaper report claiming he advocated the termination of foetuses carrying a "gay gene".
But in the same breath, Dr James Watson, 69, told The Independent that women should have the right to abort for any reason, including dyslexia, a genetic lack of musical ability or even being too short to play basketball.
Dr Watson, who with his colleague Francis Crick, discovered the double helix in 1953, said he had been quoted out of context in a Sunday Telegraph article headlined: "Abort babies with gay genes, says Nobel winner."
His comments provoked outrage in the gay community and among pro-lifers. However, his justification of them appeared to lead him into more extreme territory.
"During an interview, I was asked about homosexuality and I related a story about a woman who felt her life had been ruined because her son was a homosexual and she would never have grandchildren," he said. "I simply said that women in that situation should have a choice over whether or not to abort. I didn't say that foetuses found to have a gay gene should be aborted."
But when asked where society should draw the line over abortion, he replied: "Society shouldn't. I think women should have the right to an abortion if they want one, irrespective of whether there is a disease. I am pro- choice and I believe men and committees should play no part in women's decisions.
"I don't see where you can draw the line. Some people might not want a child who is dyslexic. A woman could say that some day, if a gene were discovered for musical ability, and her child didn't have it, she might want to abort.
"Someone else might say, I do not want my child to be short because I love basketball and he'll be too short to play. There could be 1,000 different reasons and many of them we would consider absurd. But I believe a woman should be able to walk into a clinic for an abortion and not have the state interfere."
Gay rights groups and pro-lifers reacted angrily to Dr Watson's remarks. Nick Partridge of the Terrence Higgins trust described them as "outrageous".
Professor Jack Scarisbrick, Director of the pro-life charity Life, said the idea was a "horrible suggestion. All abortion is an offence to the right to life of a child and a violation of a mother," he said. "To do this because an alleged gene is going to result in homosexuality is a terrible discrimination."
A spokesman for the Department of Health said that it would not be legal to abort a child on the grounds of future orientation: "Should a gene for homosexuality be identified, this alone could not be used under the Abortion Act to justify abortion".
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