Health Minister says tests would be too costly and cause distress to women having abortions

The Government has dismissed calls to monitor the sex of aborted babies despite evidence that abortion on the grounds of sex is taking place in Britain.

Health Minister Earl Howe said monitoring the babies’ sex would be too costly and would cause distress to too many women.

Niall Gooch, from the charity Life, called the response “disappointing”, adding: “It is clear that gender abortion is a genuine problem, but the Government is not doing much about it.”

Government officials report that birth rates for boys and girls vary depending on where their mothers were born. Earl Howe has said these differences may “fall outside the range considered possible without intervention”.

Earl Howe, responding to a question from Lord Alton of Liverpool, said that recording the sex of aborted foetuses would require the introduction of expensive new tests.

Earl Howe said: “The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists… does not recommend the routine histopathological examination of tissue obtained during an abortion procedure. Therefore, introducing testing to determine the sex of the foetus would require new laboratory tests, which would have a cost implication and require consent.”

Earl Howe said he was also concerned about the distress it would cause to women “during what is already a difficult time”.

“There would need to be an informed discussion with women, in particular to explain the rationale for testing and whether they wish for the result of the test to be shared with them,” he said.

But Lord Alton said the Department of Health was “hiding behind flimsy arguments”.

He said: “The collecting of data need cause no individual distress and is crucial in establishing how widespread this practice has become.”

He added: “What should cause real distress is that baby girls are being aborted merely because they are the wrong gender. Our indifference costs those girls their lives. The cost of collecting data pales into insignificance by comparison.”

Last year reporters from the Daily Telegraph filmed doctors offering women abortions based on the sex of the baby.

Former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley criticised the practice as “illegal and morally wrong”.

The Crown Prosecution Service is now considering criminal charges against doctors who allegedly carried out abortions based on gender.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “UK birth ratios are within normal limits. However, we continue to closely monitor ratios and related data. If anyone has specific evidence of sex-selective abortions being performed, we will refer to the police to investigate.

“Identifying the gender of aborted foetuses raises serious ethical and clinical issues, including complexities in testing, and the potential for further distress at what is already a difficult and stressful time. Although we keep all evidence under review, we currently have no plans to introduce such a practice.”