The British government is under pressure to open an inquiry after ministers admitted that illegal abortions on the grounds of gender may be taking place within immigrant communities. Many of the abortions are believed to be requested by Indian immigrant women.
Last year, the Daily Telegraph, acting on information that sex-selective abortions were becoming increasingly common for cultural and social reasons within certain immigrant communities, sent undercover reporters to several clinics through the UK. They filmed three doctors offering women terminations based on gender. One consultant, Dr Prabha Sivaraman, was filmed telling a pregnant woman who said she wanted to abort a female foetus, “I don’t ask questions. If you want a termination, you want a termination”. Another consultant, Dr Raj Mohan, was filmed agreeing to a pregnant woman’s request for an abortion even though she specifically told him the reason was that she did not want a baby girl. Dr Mohan told the woman, “I’ll put too young for pregnancy, yeah?” The Crown Prosecution Service is considering criminal charges against the doctors.
Last week, after an official preliminary analysis of birth statistics, a health minister, Lord Howe, said in the House of Lords, “While the overall United Kingdom birth ratio is within normal limits, analysis of birth data for the calendar years from 2007 to 2011 has found the gender ratios at birth vary by mothers’ country of birth”. Adding that these differences may “fall outside the range considered possible without intervention”, Lord Howe said officials will continue to “monitor” the issue and analyse the data. The minister was responding to a question by the crossbench peer, Lord Alton of Liverpool. Although Lord Howe did not mention the ethnicity of the women in question, Lord Alton has said that the practice may have been imported from countries including India and China “where sex-selective abortions have taken place on an industrial scale”.
The Daily Telegraph adds that the latest data backs up an earlier study by academics from Oxford University, which found evidence suggesting Indian women immigrants terminated more female than male unborn babies between 1990 and 2005. Abortions in the UK for non-medical reasons are legal until 24 weeks, but terminations on grounds of sex of the foetus are illegal. In 2010, there were 189,574 terminations in England and Wales, an 8% increase in the past decade. There is some evidence that more female than male foetuses are aborted. The government has rejected Lord Alton’s suggestion that data is collected on the sex of unborn babies at the time of abortion because recording the gender of foetuses “raises ethical and clinical issues”.