Experts in the field have already written about why MPs should oppose the sex selective abortion ban that has been slipped in as an amendment to the Serious Crime Bill at the eleventh hour. You can read about these arguments here, here, here, and here.
However, little has been said in the current debate about tackling son-preference - the real cause of sex selection. Sex selection is a product, of inequality and risk for women. In some parts of the world valuing men over women is deep-rooted in every aspect of economic, social, political, religious and cultural life. In these communities female infants and children may be at increased risk of neglect, hunger and even infanticide, and women may be disadvantaged in education and employment, and subject to routine abuse in the home. None of these practices are addressed or mitigated by reducing women's access to abortion. In fact any measures that limit women's ability to make choices about whether and when to have children, may compound their inequality and lack of safety.
The extent of sex selective practice in the UK is unclear, but this non-exhaustive list of things we could do to address cultural and economic causes of son-preference and concerns around sex selection would help all women.
1. Fully fund refuges, domestic violence organisations and safe spaces for all women, including specialist services for women in communities considered to be at risk of honour based violence, forced marriage, son preference and sex selection.
2. Where cultural rituals (such as rituals around death) demand participation of a son, work with community leaders to develop and advocate alternative acceptable practices e.g. that brothers, uncles, nephews or indeed wives and daughters can lead these rituals.
3. Work with community leaders to end dowry and marriage conventions which impoverish parents of daughters so that daughters are considered a financial liability and sons a source of financial security.
4. Support work to end forced marriages.
5. Increase support for women already trapped within forced marriages, as those who support forced marriages are also likely to exert pressure on women to bear sons.
6. Ensure that translation services are available for women accessing health services and social services so that they are afforded a confidential space and are not reliant for husbands or other family members to translate for them.
7. Ensure training for, and resourcing of, robust networked safeguarding practices within abortion services to support women experiencing coercion and violence. These practices should be guided by the 'One Chance' rule set out in the Government guidelines on addressing forced marriage (p.14)
8. Fully reinstate funding for and further develop confidential sexual health and contraceptive services for women in the UK, including pro-active outreach to women of all ages and in all communities to allow them maximum control over their fertility and decisions about child-spacing.
9. Tackle discriminatory practices in recruitment and in the workplace, which exclude and disadvantage women.
10. Tackle racism which further disadvantages women from ethnic minority communities and excludes them from full participation in society.
11. Support high profile, successful men and women from 'at risk' communities to speak publicly against son-preference and positively about women's achievements and the potential of women to raise the income, influence and status of their families and communities.
12. Make the UK a safer place for all women by addressing every day sexism, sexual harassment, and sexual violence.
This is, admittedly, a back of an envelope list, it would be useful to hear from women's groups within affected communities what else can be done and how their work can be supported by government, NGOs and individuals.
Everyone acknowledges that this work is long-term and that there are no short cuts. Empty gestures such as abortion bans will not accelerate progress, but will put women, in a weaker position than ever.
The ability of women to access the full range of reproductive health services including contraception and abortion has raised their status, has increased their economic participation in society, has increased their ability to plan their families, has increased their ability to leave abusive relationships, has increased their ability to care for and improve the health of the children they have and want, and has protected them from the risks and ravages of relentless pregnancy and childbirth.
This amendment is a misogynist in feminist clothing. Its anti-abortion proposers may claim to be the saviour of 'girl-babies' or to be eradicating 'gendercide', but it does nothing to address son preference, and the truth is that any law that threatens to criminalise women or the doctors who provide them with abortion can only do harm.