Women are legally free to end a pregnancy should they not like the sex of their unborn child, an abortion charity has said. Ann Furedi, the chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), said that a doctor terminating a child for reasons of gender would do so on the same legal standing as a doctor doing likewise for a victim of rape.
Furedi’s comments have sparked praise and condemnation in equal measure, with many pro-life campaigners highlighting the laxity in the law that would allow a woman to have an abortion for a reason as seemingly whimsical as gender.
Writing on the Spiked website, Furedi said that being pro-choice means exactly that, even if the choice appears to be made for fickle reasons. She wrote: "A doctor agreeing to an abortion 'on grounds of rape' would be breaking the law no more and no less than a doctor who agrees an abortion on grounds of sex selection.
"While it is true that the sex of the foetus is not a legal ground for abortion, nor is rape, or incest, or being 13 years old. Nor is being homeless, or abandoned, or just feeling there's no way you can bring a child into the world. None of these is grounds for abortion per se - yet they are all reasons why a doctor may believe a woman has met the legal grounds of abortion."
Before doctors carry out an abortion, they sign a document of good faith, confirming that they believe a continuation of the pregnancy would harm the woman mentally or physically.
Furedi wrote: "Sex selection, like rape, may not be a ground for abortion, but there is no legal requirement to deny a woman an abortion if she has a sex preference, providing that the legal grounds are still met.
"The big difference is this: most people who think of themselves as liberal and modern-thinking believe that rape, incest, youth, poverty or even general 'unwantedness' are 'good reasons' for doctors to approve abortion; and they think 'sex selection' is a bad reason, which should be stopped.
"Today in Britain, it seems more acceptable to say you want an abortion because you don't want to be pregnant than to say you want an abortion because you don't want to be pregnant with a girl. Not wanting a baby because it's a girl - whereas you would like a baby boy - seems discriminatory, unethical, 'consumerist' even.
"Those calling for tighter controls to prevent sex-selection abortion are utterly mistaken if they believe that would help women. Supporters of clampdowns on sex-selection abortion are doing as much to undermine the future of women's abortion access as those anti-choice activists who protest outside clinics. We either support women's capacity to decide, or we don't. You can't be pro-choice except when you don't like the choice, because that's not pro-choice at all."
Following publication of Furedi’s article, Professor Jack Scarisbrick, the chairman of LIFE, called for an immediate Governmental review of the 1967 Abortion Act. He said: "How else could the chief executive of BPAS, the largest abortion provider in the UK, boast that a woman can have an abortion without her 'needing to be seen by a doctor', when the law requires the authorisation of two doctors?"
He added: "How else could gender-selection abortion, i.e. aborting unborn girls simply because they are female, be potentially widely available in abortion clinics across the country?"
In 2012, 185,122 abortions were carried out in England and Wales, with BPAS responsible on average for more than 55,000 terminations every year.