Sunday 15 September 2013

Outrage over failure to prosecute doctors for sex selection abortions reaches new heights

It has not been an easy two weeks for Keir Starmer (pictured), the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

When it emerged on 4 September that the Crown Prosecution Service, which he heads, would not be bringing charges against two doctors who had been caught authorising abortions purely on grounds of gender, the outrage was immediate.

Within hours the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that sex selection abortions were ‘completely unacceptable’ and called for the Attorney General Dominic Grieve to seek an ‘urgent clarification’ about the decision.

The following day Lord Macdonald, the former DPP, described the decision as ‘very dubious’ and amounted to letting doctors ‘avoid criminal action’ because of their professional status - undermining the basic principle that ‘everyone is equal under the law’.

The CPS then made the situation worse by arguing that it was down to doctors to ‘interpret the law’ and that they had ‘wide discretion’ to assess whether a termination is legal or not. Although there was enough evidence to bring a prosecution it was not in the public interest to do so, they claimed. The matter was more appropriately a matter for the General Medical Council (GMC).

This led the GMC to distance itself from the CPS’s decision, insisting that, as a professional regulator, it should not be seen as a ‘substitute’ for the criminal justice system and is not there to ‘punish doctors’.

Emily Thornberry, Labour shadow attorney general, then wrote to the DPP to request an urgent review of the decision. She cut right to the heart of the issues at stake (full text here):

‘The GMC is a regulator and cannot bring criminal proceedings. The provisions of the Abortion Act 1967 are crystal clear. The conduct of abortions for reasons not stated in that Act is a criminal offence, not just a regulatory one. To decide not prosecute because a regulator can hear the matter instead is to disapply the law and undermine the will of Parliament.’

David Burrowes, a Tory member of the all-party parliamentary Pro-Life Group, then raised the issue in the Commons. He said: ‘There is urgent need for a statement to clarify whether the restrictions on choice in the Abortion Act are now meaningless.’

This led to the Prime Minister expressing concern in response to a parliamentary question from Tory MP Nadine Dorries.

Mr Cameron praised The Daily Telegraph for highlighting ‘this important case’ and said it was ‘absolutely right’ that the doctors could face ‘professional’ consequences.

This weekend 50 MPs supported the Health Secretary’s call for the matter to be urgently investigated.

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph they called the decision a ‘step back in the fight for gender equality’ and accused the DPP of usurping parliament’s role:

‘The decision by the CPS could lead to the conclusion that gender-specific abortion is merely a matter of professional misconduct rather than illegal. This is clearly unconstitutional as it is for Parliament to legislate to change the law, and it has occurred without recourse to Parliament. Safeguards in the 1967 Abortion Act need to be properly applied and enforced. Doctors are not above the law and the General Medical Council cannot be a substitute for the courts.’

Other critics have accused the DPP of ‘double standards’ over abortion laws and operating a policy ‘worthy of Alice in Wonderland’.

Last Friday the Christian Legal Centre said it was preparing for a private prosecution against the two doctors.

‘We are preparing for a private prosecution or judicial review, but we may do both,’ said chief executive Andrea Williams. ‘We will not let the matter go.’

I was asked to comment and said to the Telegraph that if the CPS won’t do its job then concerned citizens will step in. The CPS was giving the message that people wanting sex-selective abortions should come to Britain and that if the law is not upheld it will be increasingly flouted by unscrupulous people.

By failing to act the DPP has signalled that Britain is open for business as far as sex selection abortions are concerned. 

I can’t ever recall any issue related to abortion uniting those across the political spectrum in the way this has done. It has brought prolife activists and prochoice feminist factions together in an extraordinary way resulting in Keir Starmer attracting the wrath of all sides.

Now all the heat is on the DPP to explain fully why he has not upheld the will of parliament. We are all waiting.


  1. I've had a second letter from the Dept. for Health (ironic isn't it) that implies that investigations on the pre-signing of HSA1 forms is continuing. One wonders why it has taken so long however. It is sad that the Tories, ostensibly in favour of law 'n order, have so clearly failed to act.

    1. They have finished the investigation on pre-signing HSA1 forms but have again decided not to prosecute. Expect this to come out soon and raise more difficult questions for the DPP.

  2. What's wrong with sex selective abortions? What if you can only afford to have four children and you already have three boys? Wouldn't you want to abort and try again to balance things out a bit? How is this different from people who have abortions because they don't want to care for a sick baby, or because they don't have enough in the bank, or it isn't the right time in their career?

    Personally, I think abortion is always wrong, but for those who think abortion is fine for the purposes of family planning it seems kind of arbitrary to stop at sex selection.

    1. Good point. I think the pro-choice feminists are concerned because these are, in the main, baby girls.

    2. You could soon have tourists from India come to the UK for sex selective abortions if things remain the same. Please read and also the links from this post.

    3. No, don't be ridiculous - there won't be any tourists from India because sex-selection is already being widely practised there (illegally, of course). The Indian govt is successfully using "decoys", posing as women wanting to kill their female babies, to catch these doctors out. So the good news is that the govt in India is at least TRYING to stamp out the practice.

      But here in the UK, we seem to be condoning it.
      British doctors who engage in it SHOULD be prosecuted, in order to prevent a situation similar to India, where women can go and get illegal sex-selection abortions carried out.

      It will also send a strong signal to all Asian patients (and doctors) that they cannot do this sort of thing in Britain and get away with it.

      I wonder if it is Political Correctness that prevents them from prosecuting - because both the doctors and their patients were Asian. What do you think, Peter?


    4. Just had a look at your blog post on female feticide, Jeevan Kuruvilla. Shocking, but glad you've highlighted it - perhaps those who are pro-abortion will see clearly how ghastly it all is. Peter, perhaps you can link to this post - your readers may be interested. The reality of abortion is very different from the "choice" that women in the west keep banging on.


    5. Correction - banging on *about*, I meant to say.

  3. This is far from the first time the DPP has failed in his duty. If, all those years ago, there has been prosecutions on those who assisted people to travel to Switzerland to kill themselves, the calls for legalising euthanasia would not become so incessant: a few people serving 15 year terms would have drawn a sharp line under the matter. Our increasingly liberal elite won't enforce the few remaining restrictions we have on the destruction of life.

    1. I suspect he is afraid of making a 'martyr' out of the likes of Michael Irwin.

  4. I understand a large number of the abortions carried out in this country are, strictly speaking, illegal; how about a bit of "law and order" being applied to ALL the provisions of the Act?

    1. I suspect that is what the DPP is afraid of. If he prosecutes these doctors then he will be asked why he hasn't prosecuted those hundreds every year who pre-sign abortion forms (a form of perjury) and those thousands who tick the mental health box when there is no evidence that keeping a baby constitutes any greater danger to mental health than abortion does (in fact the evidence points the other way).

  5. I find it amazing that the CPS will support the prosecution of elderly B&B owners because they will discriminate against married and non-married people (where the non-married people were same sex) ... BUT will openly allow discrimination of LIFE by parents and doctors according to gender.

    This, surely, is the ultimate feminist issue. To deny someone life because they are a girl.

    And yet the CPS thinks it's not worth upholding the law to support future women.

    1. Because our society's definition of morality now boils down to 'freedom to do what I want without anyone else getting in the way'. The hotel owners were stopping people from sleeping together in their hotel. Their crime was causing people inconvenience and embarrassment, but in our society that is a greater evil than having an abortion because your family wanted you to have a boy.

  6. I believe China has dealt with this problem by making it illegal for doctors to reveal the sex of the baby before birth. If you're a dictatorship you can do that kind of thing!


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