A feminist perspective on abortion must take into account a girl’s right to life and avoid an absolutist defence of choice.
A sting operation by Telegraph journalists who accompanied a pregnant woman to the doctors to terminate her pregnancy on the basis of sex selection has reopened not only the traditional divide on abortion between the anti-abortion and the pro-choice lobbies but also a debate among feminists. In early September, the Crown Prosecution Service decided it was not in the public interest to prosecute the doctors even though there was a “realistic prospect of conviction“. In response to the furious debate that followed about whether to prosecute or not, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) published a statement on Monday justifying the case against prosecution.
The DPP’s statement tries to pick a careful path through essentially muddy grounds: the Abortion Act 1967 does not expressly prohibit gender-specific abortions, a myth that has been propagated by the likes of the Telegraph, but allows for a pregnancy to be terminated if its continuation “would likely cause injury to the mental or physical health of the woman”. Relying on advice from the British Medical Association, the DPP argues that “the pregnant woman’s views about the effect of the sex of the foetus on her situation and on the existing children should nevertheless be carefully considered”. Theoretically, this could justify abortion on sex-selection grounds if, for example, an Asian woman were to argue that she would face violence at home if she were to give birth to a girl.