Sex-selective abortions should be allowed, says pregnancy expert

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Moya Crockett
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A senior doctor has said that women should be allowed to have sex-selective abortions – and torn into a policy that means some pregnant women are denied the chance to find out the sex of their baby.

Parents who want to find out the sex of their foetus can usually do so in a mid-term ultrasound scan at around 20 weeks. However, some hospitals have a policy of not revealing the sex at this point, due to fears of sex-selective abortions.

Professor Wendy Savage describes this policy as “outrageous”, and says that women should have the right to terminate a pregnancy at any stage, whatever their reasons.

Under the 1967 Abortion Act in England, Scotland and Wales, a pregnancy can be aborted before 24 weeks if two doctors approve it, and it is illegal to terminate a pregnancy based on the baby’s predicted sex.

Some experts argue that withholding the foetus’ sex until later in the pregnancy – when abortions are much more difficult to obtain – will reduce the number of sex-selective abortions.   

Retired obstetrician and gynaecologist Professor Savage, who is a member of the British Medical Association’s ethics committee, says that women should be allowed to have sex-selective abortions.

“If a woman does not want to have a foetus who is one sex or the other, forcing her is not going to be good for the eventual child,” the 81-year-old doctor and women’s rights campaigner tells the Mail on Sunday.

A pregnant woman should be told whether her foetus is expected to be male or female because “it’s her body and her foetus”, continues Professor Savage.

“She is the one taking the risks.”

A woman’s mental health could be damaged if she was “forced” to have a child she did not want, Professor Savage adds.

“The foetus is a potential human life at that stage [20 weeks],” she says. “It is not an actual human life… I think you’ve got to concentrate on the [rights of the] woman.”

MPs voted last week in favour of the Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill, which would remove criminal sanctions for women and doctors in England and Wales and place regulation with professional bodies.

Under current laws, it’s illegal for a woman to have an abortion after 24 weeks for non-medical reasons. Labour MP Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North), who brought in the Bill, said she wanted to change “Victorian” laws that carry a life sentence for women and doctors.

“I don’t think society would say we want to criminalise these women,” said Johnson.

However, Conservative MP Maria Caulfield (Lewes) has argued that removing criminal sanctions from abortions “would not protect women”.

Caulfield said that the Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill would increase “wider communal discrimination and pressures that tell a woman that she must abort her child because it is a girl, because it has Down’s syndrome, because it has a disability”.

The practice of terminating a pregnancy because of the predicted sex of the child is most common in areas where baby boys are valued over girls, such as China, India and Pakistan. It is illegal in the UK.

However, a 2014 investigation by the Independent claimed that sex-selective abortions were much more widespread than government figures suggested.

Another senior obstetrician who had previously worked for the UK’s leading abortion care service has said that he had “no doubt” that women were terminating pregnancies because of the child’s predicted sex. Dr Vincent Argent told the Telegraph that he believed the practice was “fairly widespread”.

Images: Rex Features, Getty