The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas) provides a third of all abortions in the UK - and it simply isn't our experience that women from any community are coming into our clinics, anywhere in the UK, seeking to abort girls. This corresponds entirely with statistical analysis by the Department of Health, which found no evidence of gender imbalance among any community in the UK, apart from a slightly higher rate of girls - interestingly - among mothers born in Sri Lanka.
The Independent has now drilled down further into the statistics to look for evidence of sex-selection in favour of boys among certain ethnic minorities. It found that women born in Pakistan and Afghanistan who had a girl as a first child were more likely to go on to have subsequent pregnancies that were male. The paper notes that this may be because after having a girl, they "don't stop" until they have a boy. But it also speculates that alongside this "keep at it" strategy, is the termination of subsequent, but not initial, female pregnancies.
Many couples - from any community - may quite happily "keep at it" until they have at least one child of each sex, as it is how they want their family to be, and the allegation by the paper that there is a "war" on female foetuses by certain communities in this country is both unsubstantiated and extremely insulting to the people who belong to those communities. Nonetheless, the suggestion that any woman feels under pressure to bring a child of a certain sex into the world, and feels that she has failed if she delivers a girl, is intensely depressing and distressing.
But we need to think hard about where we go next with this. Misogynist attitudes which value boys over girls must always be challenged, and there are clearly strong, excellent campaigners fighting gender discrimination in their own communities. But problems arise for women when claims about sex-selective abortions are used to pave the way for restrictions on access to information about their pregnancies and abortion services. You don't tackle discrimination against women by placing greater restrictions on their reproductive choices. The idea that women should be denied information about their pregnancy on the basis that they cannot be trusted with it is quite appalling.
In 2012, journalists from the Daily Telegraphvisited a string of abortion clinics around the country - including nearly a dozen bpas centres, where we provide abortions on behalf of the NHS. At two private clinics doctors agreed to a termination for an undercover journalist who said she did not want a girl, in a cover story which involved having had a previous female pregnancy which she had miscarried due to a chromosomal abnormality. She was therefore requesting abortion in part because she apparently feared the same experience again.
The Crown Prosecution Service did not attempt to prosecute these doctors, not least because of the fact that in both cases a gender health specific concern was raised by the woman. Nevertheless these cases, neither of which were real, are being used to try to introduce new restrictions on doctors and new regulations on how they approve abortions, which will have a genuine, knock-on effect on real women with real pregnancies in real situations.
We may well find the notion of sex-selective abortion extremely disturbing, where it exists. But further curtailing women's already highly regulated reproductive choices will never be the answer to gender inequality.
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