Abortion is always an emotive issue all over the world. Laws vary and earlier this year Ireland was in the spotlight. Ireland’s laws on abortion value the life of the unborn child as equal to that of the mother. This led to the death of Savita Halappanavar’s who was miscarrying and seriously ill with an infected womb being refused an abortion although it could have saved her life.
In the UK the 1967 Abortion Act allows women the ‘right to choose’ in the early stages of pregnancy if continuing with the pregnancy would be detrimental to the ‘mental health’ of a patient – what many regard as abortion on demand for any reason a woman wants.
“the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, to the physical or mental health of the woman or any existing children of her family”
The Daily Telegraph sent undercover reporters who accompanied pregnant women to nine clinics in different parts of the country. In two cases doctors were filmed offering to arrange terminations after being told the mother-to-be did not want to go ahead with the pregnancy because of the sex of the unborn child. One consultant was recorded telling a woman: “I don’t ask questions. If you want a termination, you want a termination.” At the Calthorpe Clinic in Edgbaston, Birmingham a doctor was also filmed agreeing to conduct the procedure even though he told the woman: “It’s like female infanticide, isn’t it?”
Sex selection is illegal in this country [except fore rare sex linked inherited diseases] however Ann Furedi of BPAS [Pregnancy Advisory Service] has won outraged headlines simply by saying that abortion on the grounds of sex selection may be within the terms of the 1967 Abortion Act as anything that causes mental distress can be a reason and the CPS [ The Crown Prosecution Service] was accused of failing to uphold the law after it ruled that it would not be in the “public interest” to prosecute the two doctors exposed in the undercover Daily Telegraph investigation.
This is another ethical issue when the rights of the individual have to be balanced against the good of society. In the 4 pillars of medical ethics Autonomy is commonly pitted against Justice [fairness] [see my book Medical School Interviews The knowledge.- chapter on medical ethics]. If sex selection is allowed what effect does it have on society?Misogynistic attitudes, that devalue women may be allowed to flourish and what right then do we have to criticise countries such as India and China where there are serious gender imbalances in their populations as a result of sex selection.