On Monday 23rd February, Conservative MP Fiona Bruce proposed her amendment to the 1967 Abortion Act. which would clarify that abortions on the basis of gender were illegal in the UK. Bruce has been leading this campaign for a while and sadly my initial reaction to this amendment was that surely it’s a good thing. People shouldn’t be able to terminate a pregnancy based on gender preference. However, as usual with discussions this emotive and divisive, the issue goes deeper than this.
While here in the UK there is no substantial difference in the number of male and female babies being born, there are many countries where gender based abortion (usually the aborting of female foetus’) is a problem. However, even in places such as India where sex selective abortion is outlawed, there has been no change in the disproportionate birth rate, and the number of male babies remains consistently higher than female ones. Presumably therefore, as is so often the case where access to terminations is restricted, women are having dangerous, illegal abortions instead.
As has been repeatedly proven all over the world, illegality of abortions doesn’t stop them from happening, it only stops them happening safely.
In 2013 in the UK, 91% of abortions were carried out under 13 weeks gestation, which is far too early to know the gender of the foetus anyway. Finally, and for me most crucially, 2014 guidelines from the British Medical Association state that whilst it is usually unethical to terminate a pregnancy on the grounds of sex, doctors should consider whether having a child of a particular sex would pose a risk to the woman’s physical or mental health. I don’t know a great deal about why having a specific gender of child would affect someone’s health, but I am certain that the professionals who wrote those guidelines know more about both terminating pregnancies and the reasons women have for terminating pregnancies than I do.
In light of these discoveries, I am extremely glad that Bruce’s amendment was defeated 292 to 201, both in itself and with regard to the precedent it could set. My sigh of relief though, is short lived. The increase in pro-life protests in the UK is something everyone who supports women’s rights should be nervous about. Any proposed legislation which would limit women’s access to terminations needs to be scrutinised and make no mistake there will be more proposals. As has been repeatedly proven all over the world, illegality of abortions doesn’t stop them from happening, it only stops them happening safely.
We need to start giving women who choose to terminate pregnancies a bit more credit. No woman is getting an abortion on a whim, and frankly until we’ve walked a mile in those women’s shoes none of us should be judging them. None of us should be supporting restrictions to their medical care. None of us should be giving them anything less than our staunch and vocal support.