Tory MP Fiona Bruce wants to criminalise some women seeking abortions if they are suspected of wanting to abort a foetus because of its sex.
Bruce has tacked her “sex selection” amendment onto the Serious Crime Bill. It is yet another attempt by anti-abortion campaigners to try and limit women’s access to abortion through the back door. The national Abortion Rights campaign has coined it Bruce’s “Trojan horse”.
The anti-abortion lobby knows it cannot challenge the right to legal and safe abortion as it has solid and wide public support.
So they keep trying to attack it in different ways.
Bruce is chair of the All Party Parliamentary Pro Life Group. Her amendment is one of the most serious attacks on abortion rights for some time.
It could also whip up racism against Asian and Muslim women as the anti-abortionists claim sex selection is “prevalent in some minority communities”.
It is especially dangerous as it is being framed as an attempt to help women as Bruce claims that some societies don’t value women.
She claims some women are being forced to abort if they find out their foetus is female.
She declared, “It would be wrong to look the other way as women and girls continue to suffer.”
But Bruce does not care about women and girls. Her amendment could lead to doctors and other medical professionals racially profiling women and then reporting them if they suspect their motives for wanting an abortion. Women might feel they can no longer speak to their doctor honestly.
And Asian women could worry that their motives for wanting an abortion might be questioned more than someone elses.
There is no evidence that sex selection abortions are taking place in Britain.
In 2013 the Department of Health looked at sex ratios at birth in Britain and found “no group is statistically different from the range that we would expect to see naturally occurring”.
Yet the arguments spinning this legislation as being progressive have meant that it is winning some support. Some politicians who are pro-choice have even considered supporting the amendment.
But if a woman is facing pressure to have an abortion making her a criminal is not going to help her. Using the law to force women to carry a pregnancy they want to terminate is not standing up against women’s oppression.
In fact for the first time since the 1967 Abortion Act this amendment explicitly uses language that shifts the law away from the woman and her rights. At the moment all doctors have to consider is a pregnant woman’s “physical or mental health”.
But the amendment starts to talk about defining some abortions as a crime against the “unborn child” or “girl”.
This is a dangerous precedent. This turns women into no more than walking incubators. Women seeking abortions will have many different reasons for doing so. They should all be respected.
The law is already hugely restrictive—abortion is the only medical procedure that requires the patient to get the approval of two doctors.
Any attack on women’s right to access abortion has to be opposed. History has shown that criminalising abortion does not stop them—it just pushes women to the backstreet.
The Tory government has given renewed confidence to anti-abortion bigots. We need to mobilise to stop them.