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Behind the failure of an amendment to specify that sex-selective abortions are not legal in Great Britain

by | Feb 27, 2015

By Dave Andrusko

MP Fiona Bruce, sponser of the amendment

MP Fiona Bruce, sponser of the amendment

We have two posts today that are a struggle to put together. Not because the issues at hand—sex-selective abortions in Great Britain and a court decision throttling a woman-helping center in San Francisco—are unclear or particularly complicated but because the rationale for both is almost literally incomprehensible.

In this post, we’ll talk about what might seem at first blush to be a surprising defeat of a bill to clarify—make explicit—that the 1967 Abortion Act does not allow for what opponents of the practice accurately call gendercide.

On Tuesday we talked preliminarily about the 292 to 201 defeat of an amendment to Section 5 of the Serious Crime Bill which 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.”

But a column today by Tim Stanley in The Telegraph got me thinking more deeply about the defeat of a measure that you would think would have been fully embraced by feminists, pro-abortion or otherwise, but wasn’t.

Supporters of the amendment have made hash of the bogus objections. Stanley lists and then debunks some of the same beside-the-point/inaccurate/dissembling criticisms. From there he goes on to ask why.

For example, critics charged that “The amendment was an attempt to limit abortion access in the future because it introduced into law language referring to ‘the unborn child.’” But the foundational 1967 Abortion Act already refers to a fetus as a “child.”

Or that “Addressing the problem of sex selective abortion will ‘stigmatise entire communities’ – in the words of Sarah Wollaston MP – because it will imply that some parts of the nation are more progressive than others.” This may be the most irritating (“most spurious,” is Stanley’s description) of all the objections.

Most people (including me) probably did not know that opposition did not originate in the last year or so. Stanley quotes members of the Hindu Council UK and National Council of Hindu Temples UK who commented,

“We are all united in the belief that sex-selective abortion must end. We were campaigning for this long before [the amendment’s backers] or anyone else became interested.”

Stanley also quoted Dr. Jafer Qureshi, Muslim co-chairman of the Medical Ethics Alliance, who said: “Islamic teaching is very clear on this – it is not allowed, period. I am extremely worried about this being abused.”

Stanley’s column turns then to the question, “If the [House of] Commons was united in opposing sex selective abortion and if there were no fair arguments against the amendment, why did it not pass?“

He correctly begins by noting that philosophically, the abortion issue does not and ought not divide along Right/Left lines. (Several members of the Labour Party supported the amendment.)

However, in his view

But in the last few decades the Left-wing establishment has come to conflate women’s rights with unlimited access to abortion, and its professional lobby now regards this issue as its own.

As one example, he cites the TUC [The Trades Union Congress] which wrote to Members of Parliament advising them to vote against the amendment in language that was almost identical to the objections voiced by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), a leading provider of abortions.

So how do you explain “The failure of this very modest amendment”? According to Stanley

The Left-wing establishment could not let it pass because it cannot tolerate the concept of any limit on access to abortion whatsoever. It proclaims that it wants abortion to be safe, legal and rare. But it regards abortion as a fundamental human right if not a positive assertion of a woman’s freedom to control her own destiny – and any attempt to constrict a human freedom is, obviously, a betrayal of that freedom in principle.

Sound familiar?