Female Foeticide Falters

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A report from WYA UK on the sex-selection bill recently voted on by Parliament.

by Clara Watson, WYA UK Chapter Committee Member

Today, on 4th November, Parliament overwhelmingly voted in favour of the Abortion (Sex-Selection) Ten Minute Rule Bill, presented by MP Fiona Bruce.

At its first reading, 181-1 MPs voted in favour of the Sex-Selection Bill which would amend and clarify the 1967 Abortion Act, making abortion illegal on grounds of gender.

Section 1(1)(a) of the 1967 Act currently provides that abortion is permissible if the “continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, or of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated”. [1]

Bruce’s intended Bill, yet to be published, would clearly state that abortion on grounds of gender is not permissible under UK law, as well as obliging the Secretary of State for Health to ensure that the law is upheld.

Controversy initially sparked after the Telegraph’s 2012 investigation demonstrated that some doctors had been carrying out sex-selective abortions in the UK, “no questions asked”.[2] Whilst the former Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, deemed the practice to be “illegal and morally wrong,” the Crown Prosecution Service did not believe it to be in the public interest to prosecute the doctors in question. More contentiously, the British Medical Association recognised that abortion on grounds of gender could be legally justified, where a doctor considered the continuation of a pregnancy of a girl could cause injury to the mental health of the mother.[3]

Therefore, the vote in Parliament today was a crucial step in clarifying the current state of UK legislation and confirming the Government’s opposition to the practice.

Earlier this year, The Independent attributed the ‘disappearance’ of between 1,400 and 4,700 females to sex-selective abortions in the UK.[4] The UN Population Fund estimated female foeticide rates at approximately 40 million in Asia and Europe alone.[5]

I believe, as a young woman, that today’s first reading is progress towards gender equality.

Alice Paul, the American suffragette, once said “there will never be a new world order until women are part of it.” Whilst Alice Paul may have been referring to the enfranchisement of women, this quote resonates with literal truth. A new world order, where women are treated with the equality which rightly flows from their human dignity, cannot be expected if females are systematically eliminated in the womb.

Regardless of one’s position on abortion, the Sex-Selection Bill can be seen as a welcomed amendment to the 1967 Act.

A country which passively permits a grave injustice due to an omission in legislation is not simply indolent, but demonstrates a disregard for the dignity of the human person and the rule of law.

The law serves as a litmus test for the moral political principles of a society and demonstrates more about ourselves than perhaps we wish to admit. Omissions in legislation that allow for practices which contravene the equal status that our society accords to women are would be absurd to defend.

In 1991, the House of Lords first held, in the case of R v R, that “the marital exemption in rape forms no part of the law of England.”[6] Despite the historical and conventional tolerance towards a man’s ability to rape his wife, it became obvious that existing legal principles did not condone the rape of a woman in any other circumstance, and thus the law had to be made coherent. Likewise, we do not permit women to be actively discriminated against in any other area, and so logic also dictates that the allowance of sex-selective abortions should not exist as a loophole in the law through which we can throw out every belief we hold about women. The ability to abort a girl purely on grounds of her gender undermines any hope of achieving real equality between men and women, and fosters an unhealthy ideology that a woman’s life is worth less than a man’s.

The World Youth Alliance’s Declaration on Women states that, “equal in dignity and therefore equal in rights, woman brings a unique quality to human existence through her creativity.”[7] The unique quality which women bring to the world enriches it, and through the strength of women, society is shaped from its most basic cell to the highest levels of policy and decision making.

The WYA Declaration on the Philosophy of Human Rights holds that human beings have an intrinsic dignity, and “this intrinsic dignity does not depend on any circumstance,” especially not gender. It further states that “since the human person is prior to laws and governments, it is therefore the sole task of laws and government to respond to the reality of the dignity of the human person and protect it.”[8] I believe this morning in Parliament, progress has been made toward this end.

Therefore, today we should celebrate the dignity, splendour, and magnificence of every female; whether on a bus in India, in a school in Nigeria, in an office in London or in vitro, and together with men, continue in our pursuit for equality, respect and harmony between man and woman.

The second reading of the Sex-Selection Bill will take place on 23rd January 2015.

WYA will be following the progress of the Bill.

 


 

[1] Abortion Act 1967, available at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1967/87/pdfs/ukpga_19670087_en.pdf.

[2] Newell, C. Wyatt, H. 2012. ‘Abortion Investigation: doctors filmed agreeing illegal abortions no questions asked’, The Telegraph, 22 February, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9099511/Abortion-investigation-doctors-filmed-agreeing-illegal-abortions-no-questions-asked.html.

[3] British Medical Association, 2007. The Law and Ethics of Abortion: BMA Views. 1.7, p.4. http://bma.org.uk/-/media/files/pdfs/practical%20advice%20at%20work/ethics/lawethicsabortionnov07.pdf.

[4] Conor, S. 2014. ‘The lost girls: Illegal abortion widely used by some UK ethnic groups to avoid daughters ‘has reduced female population by between 1,500 and 4,700’, The Independent, 15 January, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/the-lost-girls-illegal-abortion-widely-used-by-some-uk-ethnic-groups-to-avoid-daughters-has-reduced-female-population-by-between-1500-and-4700-9059790.html.

[5] Christophe Z Guilmoto, 2011. Sex imbalances at birth Trends, consequences and policy implications, United Nations Population Fund, Hanoi, https://www.unfpa.org/webdav/site/global/shared/documents/Guilmoto_Revised_presentation_Hanoi_Oct2011.pdf.

[6] R v R [1991] 3 WLR 767.

[7] 2005, Declaration on Women, World Youth Alliance, https://www.wya.net/getinvolved/declarationsandstatements/declarationonwoman.html.

[8] 2009, Declaration on the Philosophy of Human Rights, World Youth Alliance, https://www.wya.net/getinvolved/declarationsandstatements/declarationonthephilosophyfhumanrights.html.