Saturday, June 15, 2024
HomeNewsCaroline Farrow: Sex-selective abortions are illegal – except in court

Caroline Farrow: Sex-selective abortions are illegal – except in court


The case of Aisling Hubert, a young anti-abortion campaigner from Brighton, ought to be receiving a lot more prominence in the mainstream media right now.

Aisling, who is aged 23 and lives at home with her parents, has been landed with a crippling legal bill amounting to £47,000 because she attempted to bring a private prosecution against two doctors who were filmed by reporters from the Daily Telegraph, offering to abort babies purely on the grounds that they were female.

The case ought to be black and white. This is not a matter of hearsay, hard evidence exists in the form of a videotape in which two doctors clearly state that they will happily perform a second trimester abortion because the parents have discovered that the baby is a girl. The footage is even still available and easily accessible online.

The Metropolitan Police decided to investigate and took no action, despite the fact that offering gender-selective abortions is supposedly illegal, as it does not constitute one of the clearly defined criteria of the 1967 Abortion Act. The only way that it could theoretically be sanctioned, would be if it could definitely be proven that having a baby of a certain sex would pose a grave risk to the mental health of the mother. Any responsible doctor would not just take the word of the mother, especially given the risks to a woman’s emotional and physical health posed by a later-stage abortion and ought to refer the woman for prompt psychiatric evaluation.

Claiming that giving birth to a girl instead of a boy, or vice versa, will seriously imperil your mental health, seems rather far-fetched and merits prompt investigation. Wanting or strongly desiring a particular sex may in certain circumstances seem understandable, but a preference is not the same as a clinical need. Women who find themselves in these situations, desperate to conceive a certain gender, ought to undertake a course of counselling or have a long hard think prior to attempting conception, if they feel so strongly about it. A child is not a consumer product to be obtained in order to satisfy the whims of the parent: neither are they an object to be discarded and killed when they appear to be substandard, or fail to measure up to expectations.

But like so many other doctors, this pair just took the woman’s word for it, made no further investigation and offered to snuff out the life of the unborn baby for no reason other than she was a girl.

It was this very investigation which then prompted MP Fiona Bruce to table a Private Member’s Bill in February 2014, in an attempt to clarify the wording of the 1967 Abortion Act and explicitly ban sex-selective abortion. The Bill did not go through because government officials were clear that there was no supposed need. MPs bottled it under pressure from the pro-choice lobby and went into full denial mode. The line ’gender selective abortion is already illegal’ was trotted out by a number of MPs from both parties, including the then health minister, Jane Ellison, who also referred to the new Department of Health guidance which specifically forbade the practice.

The Bill may not have been passed, but the overwhelming consensus was that the practice of sex-selective abortion is to be condemned, is abhorrent and ought to be illegal – even the staunchest pro-choice MPs agreed. Parliament even agreed to set up a review in order to examine whether or not sex-selective abortion is a widespread practice. I was so outraged I wrote to my local MP, Michael Gove, whose reply included the phrase that ‘sex selective abortion is illegal’ – a point he obviously wished to emphasise as he hand-underlined the phrase.

So here we have the government informing the public that sex-selective abortion is illegal, new guidance from the Department of Health clarifying this and Parliament universally agreeing that the practice needs to be stopped.

But the CPS in all their wisdom, when faced with actual evidence of law-breaking and doctors agreeing to perform illegal abortions, decide that it is not in the public interest to prosecute.

You can understand why Aisling Hubert bravely stepped in. What’s the point in stressing that sex-selective abortion is illegal, if you are then going to turn a blind eye to flagrant breaches of the law? This case was not simply about punishment (although one has to ask how many babies of the wrong sex have already been aborted by this pair) but also acting as a deterrent for anyone else tempted to sign off on a procedure that ends a life, on such flimsy grounds.

There were no extenuating circumstances, this pair were caught on tape saying “it’s like female infanticide isn’t it” and “I don’t ask questions, if you want a termination, you want a termination”. Bang to rights. Or not.

When the private prosecution went to court, despite having this key evidence in their possession, guess what, the CPS refused to release it, with the judge refusing to order them to do so. Worse still, the CPS then took over the prosecution, decided to drop it and Mrs Hubert has been ordered to pay £36,000 in costs to the two doctors, one of whom faced professional sanctions as a result of the Telegraph’s expose. When Aisling challenged whether or not she ought to be landed with these costs, she then found another £11,000 awarded against her.

This stinks to high heaven. Aisling’s case demonstrates that there is something truly rotten in our legal system. It does not matter where you stand on abortion, the freedom to bring about private prosecutions is an important protection in a democratic society. It acts as a check and a balance to ensure that the Establishment does not ignore or cover up acts of harm.

Aisling went to court on Wednesday to argue for the costs to be set aside, judgement has been deferred until January, but if the judge refuses to do so, then she is the one who could find herself in prison, landed with an enormous bill that she is unable to pay. What sort of a message does this send to any other citizen? Don’t try to uphold the law or protect the innocent unless you have wads of spare cash or are prepared to serve time yourself.

petition to the Attorney General to review both Aisling’s costs and the decision by the CPS not to prosecute, and concerned citizens would do well to write to their MP. In the meantime, as always, the question has to be Cui Bono? Who benefits from the provision of sex-selective abortion, usually carried out at a late stage with no possibility of legal sanction? It is probably not the mother and definitely not the baby.

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Caroline Farrow
Caroline Farrow
Columnist for the Catholic Universe

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