The way that abortion law is framed means that it is easy to make mistakes about the law.
Some abortion providers and campaigners have misunderstood our motives and misinterpreted the amendment.
Here we BUST 10 myths surrounding the sex-selection amendment.
1. This amendment ‘criminalises’ sex-selective abortion.
Incorrect. Sex-selective abortion is already unlawful. To state the obvious, it is not possible to criminalise something which is already criminal1.
2. This is just a pro-life amendment.
Incorrect. Our group looks beyond the tired pro-life/choice culture war. We have support from many who call themselves ‘pro-life’. But by far the majority of our support comes from the pro-choice community. This is reflected in the fact that 105 MPs are proposing the amendment from all political parties and all sides of the abortion debate. The intention of the amendment is to make clear that the law is not ‘silent’ on the matter of sex-selective abortion, contrary to what some abortion providers have said, and to force Government action.
3. This will put women at risk.
This is scaremongering. Worse, taking into account that sex-selective abortion predominantly affects girls, it is perverse. We are clear: giving a woman a sex-selective abortion will not free her from an abusive situation. Doctors need to be better sensitised about how to help women who present with such issues. This amendment will help them (see point 5).
4. This will stop abortion for sex-linked disabilities.
Incorrect. One of the grounds of the Abortion Act 1967 allows for abortion for ‘substantial risk’ of ‘serious handicap’. There is nothing in the amendment to prevent a doctor establishing ‘substantial risk’ via the sex of the fetus.
5. This does nothing to help women.
Incorrect. Our main motivation in doing this is to provide a means to force the Government to bring forward supporting regulation via clause 792 of the Serious Crime Bill. This forces the Government to consider projects targeted at combatting the problem instead of ignoring it2. We have many ideas for projects and look forward to working with Government on this if the amendment passes.
6. The amendment will negatively affect doctor/patient relationship.
Incorrect. The current law requires two doctors to be sure that the grounds for Abortion are met on pain of prosecution. Our amendment does nothing to affect that dynamic.
7. This will leave women vulnerable to prosecution.
Incorrect. The amendment deals with doctors’ decisions under the Abortion Act 1967. The amendment does not change the pregnant woman’s standing in law at all.
8. The amendment is a pro-life ‘Trojan horse’ because it uses the term ‘unborn child’ and tries to get the offence of ‘procuring miscarriage’ to apply to the fetus.
Incorrect. Against whom is the offence of ‘procuring miscarriage’ perpetrated if not the unborn child? The term ‘unborn child’ is widely used by the Government in child protection policy and is appropriate in these circumstances.
9.This amendment seeks to protect women via criminalisation.
Incorrect. The amendment does not criminalise, as explained above and in the notes below.
10. The amendment is poorly drafted.
This is a question of subjective interpretation, though it is worth noting that the former Attorney General – one of the most senior lawyers in the UK – Dominic Grieve QC MP, signed the amendment after studying it. This rather weakens the criticism, though we are keen to hear from anyone who has ideas for drafting improvements.
(1) A common misconception is that abortion is legal in the UK. It is not. Sections 58-9 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 (OAPA) establish the offence of ‘procuring miscarriage’ which applies to anyone performing an abortion. The Abortion Act 1967 sets out ways in which a doctor may perform an abortion without being guilty of ‘procuring miscarriage’. If a doctor were to authorise an abortion because the mother did not want a child of a particular sex, that doctor would be vulnerable to prosecution under the OAPA. Unfortunately, the fact that the unlawfulness of sex-selection abortion is only implicit in UK law has given rise to some bizarre interpretations. This is one of the reasons why we are campaigning to make it explicit.
(2) Worth restating here that our amendment merely makes explicit something which is already law. Those who think it will endanger women are really saying that they think the current law endangers women.