Thursday, 23 February 2012

Sex selective abortions

This morning The Daily Telegraph is leading with a story on sex selective abortions being carried out with "no questions asked" here in the UK. Undercover reporters accompanied pregnant women to nine different abortion clinics and secretly filmed the conversations had with the doctors (one of which can be viewed on the Telegraph's page, see link above). Despite sex selective abortions being illegal in this country this was overlooked and ignored by the doctors in question with one of them even saying, "I don't ask questions. You want a termination, you want a termination. ... That's my job..." On learning of the report Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, said, "I’m extremely concerned to hear about these allegations. Sex selection is illegal and is morally wrong. I've asked my officials to investigate this as a matter of urgency."

One thing that immediately strikes me about this story (although it is not the main issue) is the hypocrisy of it all. We live in a country which has spent a lot of time and energy in making men and women social equals, for instance in the workplace you cannot hire or fire or give a pay rise to one person just because they are male or female. We live in a country where discrimination against gender is, quite rightly, not tolerated...but for some reason this is now only extended to a person once they are outside the womb. This is the ultimate form of gender discrimination and yet it is allowed to occur behind closed doors. Other "reasons" are cited, excuses made, loopholes found (for example going private to avoid certain questions from the NHS) and a baby dies.

So how and why has this disturbing state of events been able to come about? There has been a great deal of anger and condemnation of these events since this story broke from both pro-life and pro-choice voices but, to a certain extent, this is not actually surprising at all.

Before you can honestly and thoroughly start to examine how the notion of killing an unborn child just because he or she is a boy or girl has taken hold in the UK you have to take a long, hard, realistic look at what abortion is in the first place. No matter how clinics or pro-choice advocates try to play it down (for example by calling the unborn child a "clump of cells" or whatever else) abortion is the intentional killing of another human person. Whilst it is not our place (and nor would we ever want to) to judge those who have had abortions in the past there is nothing that can change this fact. And in the UK abortion is available "on demand"; if you don't want to keep your child you can go into a clinic and they will organise a termination for you. Since it was legalised in 1967 it has become more and more acceptable to end your pregnancy if you can't afford to have a baby, if you don't wan't a baby, if your partner doesn't want a baby, if your baby is disabled or if, especially during IVF, there are "too many" babies. When you consider the attitude towards pregnancies where the child will be born with Down's Syndrome (for one example), where the child won't be "normal", it is not that great a leap for our culture to terminate one simply because the baby will be born the "wrong" sex. Children have become a commodity and with that they become disposable when they are not precisely what we want them to be. This attitude has come out of the easy, "no questions asked" access to abortions over the decades (as outlined in SPUC's statement here.) Sex selective abortions are, quite literally, the tip of the iceberg and what makes this so abhorrent is not simply the reason a girl could be killed just for being a girl, it is the fact that a child died in the first place. All abortion at any stage is totally and utterly wrong, completely immoral and the only way to properly address this recent and disturbing development in the attitudes towards sex selection are to change the way people see abortion in the first place. The law needs to be changed, life needs to be cherished, respected and loved in all its forms. Somehow our culture has forgotten this or tries to forget it when the truth of the beauty and dignity of all human life  becomes inconvenient and needs, desperately, to re-learn it and soon.


  1. All very true, well said. The under-regulation of abortion clinics (those in power are turning a blind eye I think) and their increasing commercialisation are also factors in this. Allowing these clinics to advertise will only encourage this commercialisation and sadly we will find more "post conception advisory centres" developing the abortion aspect of their services, without fear that this will adversely affect their ability to promote their services to the public.

    One point that does need to be made about sex-selective abortions, though, is that this is often - though not always - a factor of the cultural background of the patient. With Britain now a multi-cultural society (and I'm not saying that's a bad thing!) there are going to be families and communities to whom the sex of the baby is important and this attitude will have been ingrained through their cultural upbringing. It can require some sensitivity to re-educate them whilst retaining respect for other aspects of their cultural heritage.

    There's been a bit of an email correspondence about this amongst the pro life group and its friends, this morning. Some good ideas came up for addressing the problem of abortion and the denigration of human life from the point of view of the spiritual battle (and ultimately, it is a spiritual battle, we're waging war with the "powers of darkness" who lie behind the many social, ethical and psychological reasons for abortion). A weekly Stations of the Cross during Lent for pro-life intentions; a daily Hail, Holy Queen; a daily Angelus. As the marvellous Fr Terry Martin pointed out, there is hope in this situation, because in the end God has the victory!

  2. "And in the UK abortion is available "on demand"" -- that's a lie. In order to get an abortion, you require the consent of not one but two doctors. Fact check please.

    Also, how exactly do you square, "All abortion at any stage is totally and utterly wrong and completely immoral" and "abortion is the intentional killing of another human person", with "it is not our place to judge those who have had abortions in the past". You're calling them murderers, Katherine.

  3. With regard to "on demand", Liam, you are right - theoretically. In practice, those two signatures are rather easy to get because one of the medical grounds for legal abortion - "the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman" - is so open to a wide interpretation. Coupled with our society's general acceptance of abortion, meaning that many medical professionals will have a very sympathetic attitude to a woman's request to terminate, this makes abortion so easy to get that it is almost on demand.

    I'm not going to answer for Katherine with regard to your second paragraph, but I'd like to make the point that any responsible pro-lifer shouldn't judge those who've had abortions. Not because pro-lifers don't think abortion is wrong (it IS the deliberate taking of a human life), but because they (1) understand that we are ALL weak and frail and that there may have been great pressures on a woman, at a time when she was very vulnerable, that led her to make a bad decision; and (2) they know that only God can judge at the end of the day and as He makes forgiveness and a fresh start available to everyone, so should we. Hate the sin, love the sinner (even when the sin is objectively speaking murder). Personal culpability is not always in proportion to the objective moral status of the crime.