Female foetus ‘in most danger’
Wednesday 9th October 2013, 5:20PM BST.
The most dangerous position in Britain today is to be a female foetus, a Tory MP claimed today amid a row on alleged gender selection abortion.
Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) hit out in a Commons debate on prosecutions under the Abortion Act 1967.
The discussion in Westminster Hall came after it emerged the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had decided not to pursue charges against two doctors the Daily Telegraph filmed agreeing to perform abortions on the basis of gender.
Prosecutors have insisted it would not have been in the public interest to try and secure convictions and Attorney General Dominic Grieve today repeated his belief the decision was properly made, in remarks made to conclude the debate.
Mr Leigh said: “It’s virtually impossible in this country to be prosecuted for carrying out an illegal abortion – I’ve found out that between 2003 and 2007, 37 people were prosecuted.
“But the real issue for this Parliament and this debate is whether Parliament makes the laws or whether the CPS makes the laws…. this Parliament, clearly, when it framed the Abortion Act, whatever ones views on that, never envisaged a situation where we would have gender selection in this country.
“It is in my view outrageous the most dangerous place to be in Britain today is to be, frankly, a female foetus. That is completely unacceptable and should not be tolerated in a free society.
“The actions of the CPS have been quite extraordinary – they conducted this 19 month inquiry, they conceded the evidence was sufficient to warrant a prosecution with ‘a realistic prospect of conviction’.
“If there is enough evidence to prosecute, if Parliament has framed an act in a way which there is enough evidence, why has the Director of Public Prosecutions decided not to prosecute?”
But responding to the debate, Mr Grieve said it was vital prosecutors were independent and had the freedom to act as needed.
And he told MPs the decision in these cases on whether an abortion was legal was essentially a medical test – one doctors are required by law to carry out on a case by case basis “according to proper medical standards of care, skill and judgment”.
The Attorney General said: “T here were no detailed professional rules or step by step guidelines telling doctors how to take these decisions. It was matter left to general professional standards and ethics.
“To prosecute would have been to leave decisions as to what steps a doctor should take to a jury to make its own mind up about it. Juries do take difficult decisions robustly and sometimes do have to find their way through conflicting medical evidence.
“But I have to say I think it is questionable whether it is right or fair to ask a jury to arbitrate on a question of medical standards and ethics of which the profession has not published a detailed consensus but on which a great deal turns for both the doctor and the patient.
“The CPS concluded in the recent cases before them that it would be contrary to the public interest to proceed.”
Moving the debate, Conservative MP David Burrowes (Enfield Southgate) said he was concerned the law on abortions was being flouted.
He highlighted a CQC investigation in July last year which found failings.
He said: “The 14 NHS hospitals across England which failed the inspections all involved photocopying of doctor’s signatures and other breaches. Just for example, Rochdale hospital had a regular routine of pre-signing all abortion forms.
“Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow, a doctor’s photocopied signature continued for so long… the same signature was used beyond the time he was employed as a doctor, way beyond the time he could have any knowledge of those cases.
“That’s how far the extent of the abuses of the Abortion Act (go). Such malpractice I do not believe would be tolerated – not by the patient and not by others – for prescribing, let’s say, antibiotics or some common painkillers.
“But there is a blind eye being turned when it comes to abortion.”
Dr Sarah Wollaston, a former family doctor who is the Conservative MP for Totnes, handed MPs copies of the form used to confirm two doctors have signed off a legitimate abortion.
She said: “The point is on Certificate A is two doctors to have to sign to certify ‘we are of the opinion, formed in good faith…’. I would ask how on earth can any doctor form that opinion in good faith if they have signed a form undated and unnamed which has then been subsequently photocopied?
“This goes to the heart of one of the reasons a prosecution could not be brought, I understand, in the recent cases… what to me seems like very clear cut, straightforward malpractice and a decision was made not to prosecute.
“As a result of that decision not to prosecute, it’s made it more difficult subsequently to prosecute in cases of alleged gender selection abortion.”
Mr Grieve added: “In one of these cases, it was revealed there had been pre-signing of documents… I understand that practice has now been stopped and very clear guidance has now been issued as to its undesirability.
“That’s a policy issue, no doubt at all that as a result of that the issues of what is required in terms of professional standards has already been clarified.”
An undercover investigation by the Daily Telegraph last year involved secretly filming doctors at British clinics agreeing to terminate foetuses because they were either male or female.
After reviewing the case, the CPS decided it would not be in the public interest to prosecute.
Jenny Hopkins, deputy chief Crown prosecutor for CPS London, said previously that the fact the abortions had not actually taken place influenced the decision not to proceed, saying a relevant factor was that the General Medical Council was already involved and had the power to strike doctors off the register.
In a letter clarifying the detailed reasons behind the decision, Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer said: “In preparing the more detailed reasons, I have taken the opportunity to assure myself that the decision was properly taken and sound.
“In doing so, I have reconsidered the public interest factors for and against prosecution. I remain of the view that the decision not to prosecute is the right decision on the facts of these cases.”