The British government is expected to majorly revamp abortion laws, following claims by a newspaper that thousands of female foetuses are being illegally aborted so that families can have sons.
Since publication of the article, the Independent newspaper has announced that the Department of Health requested details of the analysis, and will be investigating data used in the report.
The government may then enforce a law to only allow couples to know the gender of their baby after six months, after which it is generally too late to have an abortion.
If the Independent’s study is confirmed true by the government, Britain will be joining a host of nations around the world where the illegal abortions of girls could have run into the hundreds of millions in recent decades.
The act of “sex-selective” abortion is when families abort their unborn female foetuses, in an effort to ensure that they have a male baby.
The Independent reported that it led to the “disappearance” of up to 4,700 females from the national census.
It claimed, after studying the 2011 national census, that there were widespread “discrepancies” in the sex ratio of children in some immigrant families.
The natural gender ratio at birth is 1.05, meaning that there are roughly 105 boys born for every 100 girls. This is nature’s way of regulating the gender balance, because women live longer than men.
If nature takes its course, the sex of the second-born child should not be affected by the gender of the first-born.
Analysts believe that when the ratio shifts significantly, rising above 108 boys for every 100 girls, other factors could be causing the imbalance.
The newspaper claimed that the gender ratio imbalances found could “only be easily explained by women choosing to abort female foetuses in the hope of becoming quickly pregnant again with a boy.”
Experts interviewed by the paper claimed otherwise that couples could simply be continuing to have children until a son is born.
Their analysis used the census data to see whether having a daughter as the first born raised a family’s probability of having a boy as a second child.
It found a largely imbalanced ratio, which showed that the second child was almost always male, where the mothers were born in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
Internationally, sex-selective abortions are a silent epidemic which many fear has prevented hundreds of millions of girls from being born.
The most recent study on the issue estimates that 200 million girls were missing globally, in what has been called a “global war on girls.”
If correct, that figure would amount to more than the the entire populations of the UK, France and Italy combined.
In parts of India and China, there is now a gender imbalance emerging.
In one province in China, there are as many as 140 boys for every 100 girls, despite a ban on sex-selective abortion.The Chinese government now estimates that by 2020, there will be at least 30 million men of marriageable age that may be unable to find a spouse, due to the lack of women.
“Gendercide” was traditionally thought to be confined to regions like North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, but in recent years it has emerged that the mass termination of girls may have reached Western countries.
UK Government Reaction
The Independent’s investigation has since sparked a debate in government on abortion law, with a major revamp expected to be made to the original 1967 Abortion Act.
Campaigners are now calling on a ban on revealing the sex of a foetus before the 24-week abortion limit, meaning it would be too late to abort the baby due to its gender.
The Independent, in their report, quoted two MPs, Fiona Bruce and Jim Dobbin, who are very vocal on changes to the current abortion laws and could potentially influence even harsher laws on abortion.
The two MPs are co-chairs of the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, who have been accused of wanting to ban all abortions in the UK.
At the same time, however, a new government proposal has suggested that women no longer need to seek a doctor’s approval before having a termination.
Some ministers are arguing that half of all of the 96,000 abortions every year in Britain are done without the patient even meeting a doctor, while opponents claim that this could open the door to “abortion on demand.”
Critics say this move trivialises abortion, doing away with the protections for women intended by the Abortion Act.
Talking to the Independent, Jasvinder Sanghera, who campaigns against forced marriage and so-called ‘honour’-based violence, said she had no doubt that gender-based terminations were taking place amongst the South Asian population in Britain.
“I think almost any Asian woman you talk to would say she feels a pressure to have a male child… If you have a daughter, these women will tell us, they feel they have let their husband down.”
The newspaper’s claims, however, have received criticism for being xenophobic and have angered both pro and anti-abortion groups alike.
They also brought the Independent’s claims into question.
The Daily Beast quoted a spokesperson for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service – an organisation which provides abortions in the UK – who rebuffed the claims.
“It is not our experience that women from any specific communities seek sex selective abortions. The claim of a “war” on female foetuses in Britain is hugely insulting to both women and to immigrant communities.”
They continued: “(…) Outrageous to suggest women shouldn’t have access to information about their pregnancy because they can’t be trusted to make moral decisions.”
Suchitra Davie, from the same organisation, argued that such a law restricting abortions would be disastrous on women’s rights to choose.
She argued that while the evidence of sex-selective abortions in India was “unquestionable”, the evidence of it happening in the UK was thin.
“Most of the data we have is speculative,” she told Spiked Online.
However, the Department of Health’s new announcement that there will be an investigation into the abortions, along with changes to abortion law, suggests that the government are taking seriously the notion of sex-selective terminations in the UK.