Fiona Bruce MP has introduced an amendment to the Serious Crime Bill, which aims to outlaw so called “sex selective abortion”. Bruce’s amendment, which has been signed by a long list of MPs including many who describe themselves as pro choice, is a worrying attempt by a seasoned anti abortion campaigner (Bruce is chair of the All Party Parliamentary Pro Life Group) to undermine the right to choose.
The amendment will be debated at the Serious Crime Bill's report stage on Monday 23 February.
Anti abortion campaigners are lobbying MPs intensively, so it is vital that MPs hear the pro choice movement’s arguments about why the amendment is unnecessary – and potentially incredibly damaging. At the end of this post, you will find a draft letter which you can use to email your MP – please do contact your MP, as every letter is vital.
The wording of the amendment is:
"Termination of pregnancy on the grounds of the sex of the unborn child
"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.”
A review by the Department of Health in 2013 into sex ratios at birth in the UK found “no group is statistically different from the range that we would expect to see naturally occurring”.
The amendment, if passed, will not even be effective, but could be the thin end of a wedge to undermine the 1967 Abortion Act. Laws already rightly protect pregnant women from reproductive coercion, as a form of domestic violence.
The amendment will however introduce a duty upon doctors to consider something other than the health and wellbeing of the person who is pregnant: doctors will be tasked with policing the intentions of people seeking access to abortion. As intentions are impossible to prove, this will in practice lead to racial profiling, and differing levels of availability of the full range of reproductive options, based on perceived ethnicity.
Supporters of the amendment claim it will ‘send a message’, which it will – it will send the message that in certain circumstances, a foetus’s rights trump those of the person carrying it. Abortion laws don't need to change – what needs to change are ways of thinking that value a foetus of one sex over another.
Numerous pieces have been published in response to the Bruce amendment pointing out its deeply flawed nature, in the New Statesman, on the Conversation, in the Letters page of the Daily Telegraph, and in the Scotsman among others. Abortion Rights has written a letter to MPs which you can read here. For more background on how bans on “sex selective” abortion are an ineffective response, the Guttmacher Policy Review published an excellent piece in 2012. This very blog has two posts on the issue (from September 2013 and January 2014) which call into question the claims and evidence used by anti choice campaigners who are calling for a ban.The Bruce amendment presents a real danger to the right to safe, legal abortion in the
Proposed letter to your MP
You can find your MP’s email address and contact details via this link:
Feel free to use the below letter as a template, or to adapt it, or to write your own – we just need to make sure we contact as many MPs as possible.
Dear [MP name],
I am writing to you to express my strong opposition to the amendment to the Serious Crime Bill tabled by Fiona Bruce MP, “Termination of pregnancy on the grounds of the sex of the unborn child”.
Reproductive coercion, including forced abortion, is already illegal, as it is a severe and abhorrent form of domestic violence. Abortion clinic staff are trained to recognise the signs of someone being forced into having a termination they do not want, and follow procedures to ensure that women’s right to choose is respected. No new law criminalising women seeking abortion is required.
A review by the Department of Health in 2013 into sex ratios at birth in the UK found “no group is statistically different from the range that we would expect to see naturally occurring”. While there have been several highly upsetting first person accounts of women forced to abort due to the foetus’s sex, there is no evidence that this is a widespread practice in the UK, and no compelling argument that the Bruce amendment would have protected the women in question.
The amendment will do nothing to address the causes of boy-preference in some communities, and will lead to racial profiling of people from communities assumed to be 'at risk' of sex selection. It will give doctors the impossible task of policing the intentions of pregnant women, and remove the Abortion Act's requirement that the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman be the overriding concern of doctors authorising terminations.
I ask you to vote against this amendment and to make the case that your colleagues do the same.
Yours sincerely[Name, address]