By Dave Andrusko
That it was expected did not make last night’s 292 to 201 defeat of an amendment to make clear that sex-selection abortions are not legal under England’s 1967 Abortion Act any the less bitter a pill to swallow.
The language of the amendment to Section 5 of the Serious Crime Bill read, “Nothing in section 1 of the Abortion Act 1967 is to be interpreted as allowing a pregnancy to be terminated on the grounds of the sex of the unborn child.” You would think that all feminist groups and groups dedicated to preventing violence against women would be on board.
But you would be wrong.
The headline on a piece written by the associate editor for the Catholic Herald seemingly sums it up, at least for now: “The abortion industry has an iron grip on Parliament.”
The list of spurious objections boggles the mind. For example, that it would get in the way of aborting children who are prenatally diagnosed with a disease that is sex-specific to girls. (Unfortunately, were the amendment law, it would have had no impact on that tragedy.)
Or that the amendment “criminalizes women.” In fact, as Dominic Grieve MP, the former Attorney General wrote, “The truth is that the amendment does not even apply to women. Rather, it relates to those who apply the grounds of the 1967 Abortion Act – a privilege granted only to doctors.”
Or that, as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), a leading provider of abortions, wrote in a briefing, the amendment would supposedly racially discriminate against women from some South Asian communities, in which for cultural reasons sons are often preferred to daughters.
Or that if physicians were required to find out if a woman is aborting (her girl baby) because she is being coerced into doing so, it would mean that the father would abuse the mother to force a miscarriage—that is, one form of coercion would replace another. (Think of where THAT line of logic takes you.)
MP Fiona Bruce, who introduced the amendment on behalf of a cross-party group that included a number of other female MPs, responded with a combination of indignity and anger:
“Sex-selective abortion does not solve domestic abuse. Allowing sex-selective abortion would not protect women but would condone and exacerbate such abuse.
“It is unconscionable to provide a woman with a sex-selective abortion for her then to return to an abusive partner.”
“It is utterly wrong to claim women will suffer domestic abuse unless they are able to abort on the grounds of gender – indeed the opposite is the case – unless we support women by opposing this kind of dreadful abuse it will simply continue.”
But the arrows were all pointing in the wrong direction as Monday’s vote approached. Prime Minister David Cameron had voiced his opposition all along, offering the excuse, “I support the status quo whereby abortion on gender grounds is not legal, it is not allowed under our arrangements.”
Then on Monday, MPs received an email from The Trades Union Congress opposing the amendment, which parroted BPAS’s arguments.
During the debate Bruce said,
“This vote showed what we all know but nobody wants to admit. The Abortion Act, which was drafted to permit abortion in serious circumstances, is broken beyond repair.
“Parliamentarians never imagined that women would try to abort for gender in 1967. But this attempt to update it to ensure that the law is clear has been stamped upon by Labour Party whipping. Only women who suffer with sex-selective abortion lose as a result of this vote.”
Jeena International campaigns against sex-selective abortions. According to the Telegraph, its director, Rani Bilkhu, said the outcome of the vote was a “disgrace.”
“This is an insult to the women we work with who have suffered under the burden of sex-selective abortion and have said they want clarity in the law,” she said.
“To think that a few Westminster bubble MPs could scupper [wreck] such an important vote mocks the very fabric of British democracy. It is a disgrace.”