Last month Mary Creagh, Labour’s shadow transport secretary, complained about the lack of positive female role models in, er, Thomas the Tank engine.

The treatment of fictional locomotives is, no doubt, an urgent and ongoing issue, but one wonders if our politicians might find more time to comment on discrimination in the real world. Consider, for example, the following investigation by Steve Connor in the Independent:

“The illegal abortion of female foetuses solely to ensure that families have sons is widely practised within some ethnic communities in Britain and has resulted in significant shortfalls in the proportion of girls, according to an investigation by The Independent.

“The practice of sex-selective abortion is now so commonplace that it has affected the natural 50:50 balance of boys to girls within some immigrant groups and has led to the “disappearance” of between 1,400 and 4,700 females from the national census records of England and Wales…”

The Government says that there is no evidence that this is going on. But if that’s true, then how do ministers explain this:

“…deeper statistical analysis of data from the 2011 National Census has shown widespread discrepancies in the sex ratio of children in some immigrant families, which can only be easily explained by women choosing to abort female foetuses in the hope of becoming quickly pregnant again with a boy.”

Sex-selective abortion is a routine practice elsewhere in the world and has been known about for decades:

“Amartya Sen, the Indian-born economist and Nobel laureate who warned 25 years ago about the tens of millions of ‘missing women’ in the world, said gender-based abortions are a new form of sex discrimination. ‘Selective abortion of female foetuses – what can be called ‘natality discrimination’ – is a kind of high-tech manifestation of preference for boys,’ Professor Sen said.’”

Writing in the Telegraph, Cristina Odone wants to know where the outrage is – especially from those usually quick to condemn any form of gender discrimination:

“Feminists should be up in arms about this. They are not. While they have fought tooth and nail the sexist app that allows little girls to perform plastic surgery  on a Barbie, most have stayed silent on a far worse crime against women.

“Why? because some so-called feminists believe the right to abortion trumps everything… Pro-choice ideology has such a stranglehold on this group that they will wilfully overlook the fact that this ideology can be turned against our sex: when a woman wants to abort her baby simply because it is a girl, abortion becomes the grossest misogynist act of all.”

Of course, within the pro-choice worldview – and in the eyes of the law as it currently stands – the female foetus is not a girl, because her/its humanity is not recognised. On this basis, sex-selective abortion supposedly has no more moral significance than, say, the sex-selective slaughter of livestock. Similar reasoning applies to the selective abortion of the disabled.

And yet the impact of sex-selective abortion is not confined to the womb. If practiced on a sufficient scale, it will – if skewed in aggregate against one gender or the other – have a distorting effect on society as a whole. Unbalanced sex ratios are generally bad news for women and girls – especially in the developing world. We can already see the consequences in countries like India and China.

One wonders whether western liberals would be quite so relaxed about the issue if abortion were not involved. For instance, if a pill were developed that allowed would-be fathers-of-sons to only produce Y-chromosome sperm, would feminists support a man’s right to choose?