UK doctors exposed in illegal abortion scandal

Undercover reporters have filmed a British doctor offering an abortion – because the baby was the wrong sex. Gender-selective abortion has wreaked havoc in east Asia. Could it be spreading?

‘I don’t ask questions,’ the doctor says. ‘If you want a termination, you want a termination. That’s my job. I don’t ask questions.’ Recorded on hidden camera by undercover journalists, the bold assertion has sparked a scandal. Dr. Sivaraman, from a private medical practice in Manchester, was offering to abort a foetus because of its gender. The foetus was a little girl: its parents wanted a boy.

In the UK, it is illegal to abort a baby on the basis of its sex. Though an abortion may be performed up to 24 weeks into a pregnancy, it is not something British women can simply demand. For a termination to go ahead, two doctors must agree there is cause for it – that pregnancy poses a risk to a woman’s health and wellbeing.

For most of the doctors approached by the Telegraph‘s reporters, the disappointed hope for a boy was not a good enough reason. But the fact some were happy to end a pregnancy on this ’immoral’ basis has led to concerns. Critics say abortions are being carried out ‘on request’, for trivial reasons. Yesterday, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley announced an investigation into the scandalous affair.

He may be right to be worried. In countries like India and China, gender-selective abortion has had a catastrophic impact. In the past, a preference for boy babies over girls led to female infanticide or neglect. But in the last fifty years a combination of factors – improved technology for identifying foetal gender, the increased availability of abortion and, in China, a strict one-child policy – has led to the abortions of millions of baby girls.

According to one study, nearly 90 million girls are ‘missing’ from the population of East Asia; in China, the sex ratio is 120 boys to 100 girls. Now, there are not enough women to go round, and a glut of single men at risk of depression and crime. Thanks to illegal gender-selective abortion, these so-called ‘bare branches’ are a ticking time bomb of social problems.

Right to birth?

When a foetus is aborted because of her sex, we are horrified. But when it is terminated because her parents simply don’t want a child, many in society don’t bat an eyelid. Opponents of abortion think this does not make sense. If abortion is wrong in one case, they argue, it is wrong in the other.

Gender selection, others argue, is uniquely unacceptable – perpetuating the idea that boys are preferable to girls, and creating a gender imbalance with all its accompanying social problems. Most importantly, it has denied millions of girls the right to life, purely on the basis of their gender – a gross act of sexism perpetrated against women still unborn.

You Decide

  1. Why is it immoral to abort a baby on the basis of gender?
  2. Does an unborn baby have rights?


  1. Read Ian Jack’s essay on the experience of abortion, in the links. Write a 250 word essay describing your reaction to the piece.
  2. Divide the class into groups. Each group should research the attitude to abortion in one major world religion, then report back to the rest of the class.

Some People Say...

“Abortion is murder.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Q: Does this impact how abortion services will be managed?
It might do. Groups that campaign against abortion could use the story as evidence that abortions are being carried out too frequently, and with too little control. That could lead to tighter guidelines: currently, the UK government is researching whether all women should have counseling before an abortion – guidance which may be given by religious groups as well as abortion providers.
How likely is it that abortion will affect me?
In developed countries, around one in three women will have an abortion at some point in their lives. The partners and friends of these women will also be affected by abortion services, and how easy, or difficult, it is to access them.

Word Watch

Andrew Lansley
Currently the UK’s secretary of state for health, Lansley is one of the most Conservative politicians of the current Coalition government. His proposed reforms of the NHS, which include ‘consortia’ of GPs who can direct their own budgets, led to widespread outcry – and a satirical YouTube video that garnered over 400,000 views.
Infanticide means killing a child within a year of its birth. Today it is considered an inexcusable form of murder in most societies. But in the ancient world it was more common: leaving weak babies to die, for example, was widely practiced in ancient Sparta.
The name given to a mammal which is growing in the womb. In humans, a developing embryo becomes a foetus at 9 weeks – and within that time, it changes phenomenally. At 9 weeks, the foetus is about 3cm in length. At week 20, eyelashes and eyelids appear, and the mother can feel the foetus moving.

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