North East MPs split over plans to outlaw selective-sex abortion

Calls for new laws follow claims girls are being aborted but opponents warned women would be treated as criminals

Andrew Matthews/PA Wire North East MPs were divided over controversial proposals to outlaw abortion on the grounds of a foetus's sex
North East MPs were divided over controversial proposals to outlaw abortion on the grounds of a foetus's sex

North East MPs were divided over controversial proposals to outlaw abortion on the grounds of a foetus's sex which have been rejected by the House of Commons.

Proposed new laws making it clear that it is illegal to have an abortion because of sex of the potential child were backed by a number of MPs.

North West Durham MP Pat Glass, Berwick-upon-Tweed MP Sir Alan Beith and North Tyneside MP Mary Glindon backed a proposed amendment to the Government’s Serious Crime Bill, which clarified existing abortion legislation.

It follows newspaper reports suggesting some doctors at abortion clinics in the UK are willing to carry out abortions on the grounds of the sex of unborn babies.

Sex-selective abortion is believed to be a problem in some parts of the world such as India, where analysis of population data, such as a study by academics at the University of Toronto, suggests there are fewer girls in the population in parts of the country than would be expected.

But the proposed legislation was opposed by other MPs, such as Newcastle upon Tyne Central MP Chi Onwurah, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Tom Blenkinsop, Washington and Sunderland West MP Shardon Hodgson, North Durham MP Kevan Jones, Easington MP Grahame Morris, Houghton and Sunderland South MP Bridget Phillipson, Blyth Valey MP Ronnie Campbell and Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson.

Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery and South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck also opposed the legislation.

MP Ian Lavery
MP Ian Lavery

While critics of the laws also firmly oppose abortion on the grounds of sex, they claimed that specific legislation could lead to women being treated as criminals if they were pressured into seeking an abortion by family members, such as husbands who demanded a son.

Some critics also objected to the wording of the proposed legislation, which referred to the sex “of the unborn child”. This would be a step towards recognising the rights of an unborn child in law and could undermine laws allowing abortions to proceed at all, some critics said.

And although the proposed amendment was sponsored by dozens of MPs, there was suspicion that the author, Conservative Fiona Bruce, who is opposed to abortion, saw it as an opportunity to limit access to abortion services.

Critics of the amendment instead called on the Government to hold a study into whether abortion on the grounds of sex was in fact a problem in the United Kingdom.

The proposed law was rejected by 292 votes to 201 in a Commons vote.

Mrs Onwurah said: “It is already illegal in this country to abort a foetus purely on the grounds of gender, and that is how it should be.

“This is a problem in some countries, but we don’t know to what extent it is a problem here.

“It is completely unacceptable wherever it happens.”

MP Chi Onwurah
MP Chi Onwurah

However, she said the proposed amendments would “criminalise women” who were being pressured into having an abortion.

Organisations opposing the proposed law included the Angelou Centre in Newcastle, which supports black and other ethnic minority women and children in the North East.

It signed a letter, also backed by women’s groups elsewhere and a number of academics, which warned: “Women need support and if there is coercion involved in any such cases of sex selective abortions, the existing Abortion Act sufficiently covers this area and requires strengthening with the support of social services.”

While MPs had a free vote on the issue, meaning they were not told how to vote by their parties, Labour Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper issued a statement urging her party to vote against the amendment and Conservative leader David Cameron also opposed it.

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