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The Lost Girls


In January the Independent published a series of articles following “rigorous analysis” of the 2011 census results for the UK. The articles claimed that the census reveals that there are “thousands of ‘missing’ girls” in the UK due to sex-selective abortion.1


Steve Connor, writing for the Independent, says that, worldwide, gender selection – including the abortion of female fetuses – may account for a shortfall of up to 200 million girls and that the UK is no longer immune.2


Evidence


Earl Howe, the minister responsible for overseeing the health department's investigation, in answer to a Parliamentary question in June, said, "We do not believe that there is any evidence that this is happening in the UK." But the Independent asserts that the health department did not carry out a powerful enough statistical analysis. Specifically, the department's analytical team did not look at the birth ratios of second or third-born children of immigrant mothers or fathers. The Independent concludes, “It is simply not credible to claim, as Government ministers have done repeatedly, that there is no evidence to suggest that sex-selective abortions take place in Britain.”


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 Independent revealed.3


It was found that in two-child families of some first-generation immigrants, having elder daughters significantly increases the chances of the second child being male – an imbalance in the sex ratio that should not occur naturally.  To double-check their analysis, the Independent asked professional statisticians to analyse the data in more detail. They confirmed that the effect is statistically significant and that there are only two plausible explanations, which are not mutually exclusive – either gender-based abortion or the practice of women continuing to have children until a son is born. The latter phenomenon could not explain some sex-ratio anomalies that persisted across families of all sizes, notably for mothers who were born in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

“The only readily available explanation that is consistent with a statistically significant gender shift of the sort observed in the census data is gender-selective abortion,” said Dr Anagnostopoulos , a lecturer in statistics at Imperial College London.4


What choice?


Those who advocate abortion on demand often proclaim themselves to be “pro-choice” but where there is a cultural bias against female babies the “choice” may come about through coercion. An Independent article highlighted this problem:5


“Rupi remembers her second pregnancy with tearful dread. Having given birth to a girl two years before, she had expected the further love and support of her husband and his family. Instead, she came under extraordinary pressure to have an abortion. The 29-year-old British Indian, who has asked The Independent not to reveal her real name, found out during a private scan that the child she was expecting was a girl. It was at this point that congratulations turned to consternation and the hints began that ‘it could be taken care of’.


She told The Independent: "It was a completely traumatic time. I had this child growing inside, a beautiful thing. But my family weren't happy; they wanted me to have a son. My husband's family were not wealthy and a son is so cherished.

"I'll never forget. My mother-in-law sat me down one evening and said I should think about making the pregnancy go away, that it could be taken care of. It was clear what she meant. When I told my husband what she had said, he said it was something we could consider. I was shocked. I felt as if my baby had become dirty, shameful."  After seeking the help of a community group near her home in Slough, Rupi, who comes from a Sikh family, persuaded her family that she should keep her daughter, now a bouncing three-year-old girl. But she has no plans for further children. Other outcomes are not so happy.


Ann Furedi, CEO of BPAS, writes, “Take the hypothetical case of a woman who discloses that if her family discovers she is pregnant with another girl, they will disown her and she’ll lose her home, her husband whom she loves, and her existing children. She doesn’t want help to leave her family; she just wants to not be pregnant, now. When politicians like Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative MP, say that ‘selective abortion of baby girls harms women’, do they really intend that this woman should be sent back home to face the consequences? Should her abortion be refused, even though a doctor thinks it would be better for her wellbeing if he approved it?”6 It could be argued that this form of coercion is encouraged by the fact that abortion is so readily available.



“Woolly” grounds for abortion


While many NHS hospitals have a policy of refusing to divulge the gender of a foetus until after the 24-week abortion limit, private scans are available. A mother seeking a termination can then insist her reasons are based on the threat to her mental and physical well-being enshrined in the abortion law.


Dr Sudhir Sethi, a NHS consultant paediatrician who specialises in child health in Leicester, said: "I am told that sometimes woolly reasons like detriment to the mother's mental and emotional health have been used to get rid of these unwanted female fetuses."  


A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “Abortion on the grounds of sex selection is against the law and completely unacceptable.”  However, although it is technically illegal under the 1967 Abortion Act, an abortion based on the sex of a fetus can still be carried out if two doctors agree that it is in the best interests of the woman's health. This is one reason why it has been so difficult to prosecute doctors offering terminations where gender has been an issue. The former director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, articulated the difficulty last October explaining why he was not going to pursue the prosecution of two doctors allegedly caught offering sex-selective abortions.  "The law does not, in terms, expressly prohibit gender-specific abortions; rather it prohibits any abortion carried out without two medical practitioners having formed a view, in good faith, that the health risks of continuing with a pregnancy outweigh those of termination," Mr Starmer said. "On the facts of these cases, it would not be possible to prove that either doctor authorised an abortion on gender-specific grounds alone.” 7


Ann Furedi has pointed out that, “Today in Britain, it seems more acceptable to say you want an abortion because you don’t want to be pregnant than to say you want an abortion because you don’t want to be pregnant with a girl.”  8


The statement by Dr Sethi, “woolly reasons like detriment to the mother's mental and emotional health have been used to get rid of these unwanted female fetuses" should be equally shocking if the word “female” is left out.  These “woolly reasons” are the ones that are given for 98% of the 200,000 abortions carried out annually in the UK.



1 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/the-lost-girls-thousands-of-missing-girls-revealed-by-analysis-of-uks-2011-census-results-9059905.html

2 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/the-lost-girls-it-seems-that-the-global-war-on-girls-has-arrived-in-britain-9059610.html

3 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/the-lost-girls-illegal-abortion-widely-used-by-some-uk-ethnic-groups-to-avoid-daughters-has-reduced-female-population-by-between-1500-and-4700-9059790.html

4 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/the-lost-girls-illegal-abortion-widely-used-by-some-uk-ethnic-groups-to-avoid-daughters-has-reduced-female-population-by-between-1500-and-4700-9059790.html

5 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/the-lost-girls-if-you-have-a-girl-you-feel-youve-let-your-husband-down-9059570.html

6 http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/you_cant_be_pro_choice_only_when_you_like_the_choice/14032#.UwTeF_l_tc8

7 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/the-lost-girls-why-it-has-been-so-difficult-to-prosecute-doctors-offering-terminations- where-gender-has-been-an-issue-9059590.html

8 http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/you_cant_be_pro_choice_only_when_you_like_the_choice/14032#.UwS5YPl_tc-

MARCH 2014

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