LONDON — Members of parliament (MPs) in the UK have rejected a bill that would provide clarity to existing abortion laws to ensure that gender-selective abortions are considered a crime in the nation.
The bill, presented by MP Fiona Bruce, sought to add an amendment to the country’s “Serious Crime Bill,” which would simply state, “nothing in section 1 of the Abortion Act 1967 is to be interpreted as allowing a pregnancy to be terminated on the grounds of the sex of the unborn child.”
Bruce was moved to introduce the amendment after reports surfaced of UK doctors referring women for abortions based on their disappointment with the sex of the child.
“We know sex-selective abortions are happening in the UK and little is being done to stop this,” she told reporters.
“We have a high rate of women coming to us and saying, ‘We are being threatened and coerced to having abortions, we’re being thrown down the stairs,'” Rani Bilkhu of Jeena International said of British Asian women. “There’s also women who’ve actually had girls, and have been left in hospital wards, because they feel that they’ve shamed the family and that woman is cursed.”
As the majority of those who are aborted in such instances are girls, as Bilkhu stated, Bruce found the act to be the greatest form of violence against women.
“If we cannot get a consistent line from abortion providers on whether or not it is illegal to abort a girl—it is usually girls but not always—for the sole reason that she is a girl, then the law is not fit for purpose,” she stated. “To do so constitutes a gross form of sex discrimination. Indeed it is the first and most fundamental form of violence against women and girls. Surely no one can object to a clause that simply states that that is wrong.”
Bruce said that the amendment is necessary because the current law provides no language denoting that the practice is illegal. However, leaders have been divided over whether or not the amendment is needed as there is confusion over whether the existing law applies to gender-selective abortions. Some lawmakers say yes; abortionists say no.
“It is a shame that this clarification is needed. Successive health minsters and even the prime minister have been very clear as they state that abortion for reasons of gender alone is illegal. The prime minister has described the practice as appalling but they are being ignored,” she said. “The British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which provides around 60,000 abortions a year, flatly disagrees. Even today they are advising women in one of their leaflets and on their website that abortion for reasons of foetal sex is not illegal because the law is silent on the matter.”
In November, the House of Commons voted to approve the amendment, with 181 in favor and only one against. But in the meantime, some began to speak against the proposal.
“We do not want to go back to the days of the botched backstreet abortions that took place prior to the 1967 Act, which throughout the ages have been the resort of desperate women,” MP Ann Coffey stated, remarking as to what might happen if women are not able to obtain an abortion due to dissatisfaction with the child’s gender.
Prime Minister David Cameron said that the effort might prevent women from being able to “avoid the certainty of genetic disease.”
Health Minister Jane Ellison contended that the amendment was unnecessary as she is among those who believe that the existing Serious Crime Bill is sufficient.
“The government has been consistently clear that abortion on the grounds of gender alone is already illegal,” she said. “The Department of Health repeated this in guidance issued in May 2014 and it is important to stress that all independent sector providers have agreed to comply with and operate on the department’s guidance and must do so as part of their licensing conditions.”
Therefore, on Monday, British Parliament voted 291 to 201 against the measure.
“Parliament … failed in its duty to ensure women are not discriminated against at all stages of their lives,” Michaela Aston of the UK pro-life group LIFE said in a statement. “Instead, it caved in to the intense lobbying efforts of the abortion industry and its advocates, against the outlawing of sex selection abortion.”