Later today MPs will debate New Clause 1: the sex selection abortion amendment to the Government’s Serious Crime Bill proposed by myself and over 100 other MPs.
It is a simple, one line amendment with two aims: first, to state with absolute clarity that UK law prohibits sex-selective abortion, second, to provide the Government with an opportunity to develop guidance and regulations aimed at tackling the problem.
I cannot recall a time in the House of Commons when such a short amendment has generated such comment and – it has to be said – misrepresentation.
Indeed, such is the interest that a wrecking amendment has been tabled by Ann Coffey, possibly as a result of some of those misrepresentations.
Her amendment would require an assessment of evidence for sex-selective abortion in the UK. But Coffey’s amendment fails in the key area: it does not fulfil the House of Commons’ desire to clarify the law (as expressed in a vote on a 10 Minute Rule Bill last year) – which was the whole reason for bringing this initiative forward in the first place!
Moreover, I’m not sure if the proposers realise that everything they have asked for can already be delivered by the Bill if New Clause 1 passes.
Colleagues and ConHome readers should be clear: the Coffey amendment does not address the central problem here. If it were to pass, abortion providers would still be able to advise women that the law is ‘silent on the matter’ of the selective abortion of baby girls.
Of course this kind of procedural tinkering is to be expected, as anything related to abortion generates huge controversy. But even I have been surprised at the things that have been written.
It has been suggested in some quarters that the intention of my amendment is to criminalise women seeking abortions. This is incorrect. No new criminal offence is created by my amendment.
The Abortion Act does not mention sex selection, which means – because of the way the Act is structured – that a doctor carrying out an abortion on the grounds of the baby’s sex is already risking prosecution.
My amendment does not in any way alter the legal standing of women vis a vis abortion; in fact, it only addresses the position of the authorising doctors.
This should be clear to anyone who has taken the time to look at the amendment and how it relates to the existing law, rather than relying on the misleading briefings circulating on social media and here at Westminster. One such briefing carried the highly ironic and frankly ludicrous claim that clarifying the current law on sex-selective abortion would put women’s lives at risk.
One of the worst allegations is the one issued by the pro-choice organisation Antenatal Results and Choices, which claims that our amendment stops abortion where there is a sex-linked disability in the fetus.
This is also untrue – the amendment was drafted specifically to avoid that problem, as I will make clear in the House later and as the former Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, explains in the Telegraph this morning,
Another accusation I am having to deal with constantly is that this is just a pro-life initiative. However – as opponents well know – the Stop Gendercide campaign is being supported by a whole host of pro-choice organisations and individuals including Jeena International, Karma Nirvana, the Sharan Project, and many others.
They also know that the 181 MPs who voted in favour of clarifying the law in November and those whose names are on this amendment come from all sides of the abortion debate.
The organisations supporting our campaign are dedicated to helping women in difficult situations. They have all stated that they have extensive experience of sex-selective abortion occurring in the UK, generally in the context of coercion and anti-female prejudice.
They are all saying this amendment is needed to stop women being misled, to send a strong signal, and to provide an opportunity for Government help. I sincerely hope that MPs will prioritise their voices over those of lobbying groups.
Various other objections also collapse on close inspection. I have heard it suggested, for example, that the amendment will hurt women in some way, either by discouraging them from accessing services or reporting abuse.
The same argument was made about forced marriage – that somehow by establishing that the practice is illegal, you trap women and girls in an abusive situation.
Our amendment does not entail any cuts or changes to services for victims of domestic violence. On the contrary, greater clarity in the law is actually a help to women; it is a powerful statement that the law is on the side of females facing discrimination and abuse.
So too will giving girls greater protection from FGM, which MPs are also considering today.
MPs who want the law to be clear in its condemnation of sex-selective abortion should vote for New Clause 1 today. It won’t end the problem on its own, but it’s an important step on the way.