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Gender-based abortion allegations 'impossible to prove' says DPP

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The Director of Public Prosecutions, Kier Starmer QC, has published detailed reasons for the decision not to prosecute two doctors accused of agreeing to carry out abortions on the basis of the sex of the unborn child.

This follows an undercover investigation by the Daily Telegraph which involved secretly filming doctors allegedly agreeing to terminate pregnancies on the basis of sex. Allegations against the two doctors, identified only as Dr. S and Dr. R were investigated however the Crown Prosecution Service announced in September that charges would not be brought.

At the time, the CPS indicated that it was not in the public interest to prosecute and cited the fact that the procedures were not carried out and the fact that both doctors were under investigation by the General Medical Council as relevant factors.

The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, expressed alarm at the time and pressed the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, to seek urgent clarification from the CPS. Mr. Hunt stated that “We are clear that gender selection abortion is against the law and completely unacceptable”.

In a letter to the Attorney General, the DPP indicated that the decision not to prosecute was “properly taken and sound”. Mr Starmer added that the cases were not “clear cut” and that the law as it stands “does not expressly prohibit gender-specific abortions”. In his reasons Mr Starmer confirmed that the law prohibits abortions to be 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. In the case of Dr. S and Dr. R, Mr. Starmer remarked as follows:

“In both cases the ‘patient’ gave mixed reasons for wanting a termination, making reference to a previous female pregnancy which had gone wrong because of an alleged chromosomal abnormality, thus making it impossible to prove that either doctor authorised a termination solely on the grounds of the sex of the baby.”

The Attorney General indicated that following discussions with the DPP he was satisfied that the decisions in the cases of Dr. S and Dr. R had been made ‘properly and conscientiously.’

Mr. Grieve added: “After the discussions I have now had with the director and seeing the documents he has published today, I understand that the question in these cases was not whether this was a gender-specific abortion, but whether the doctors made a proper, considered medical judgment.”

The DPP has also made it clear that the decisions in these cases do not preclude prosecutions in future cases where it can be proven that an abortion is arranged and/or carried out solely on the basis of sex. These decisions were case-specific and reflect the fact that the woman in question did in fact express a health-related concern when secretly filming the two doctors concerned.

By Carl Johnson, Associate solicitor in the Professional Discipline team

Our specialist regulatory lawyers act for medical professionals facing criminal investigation and fitness to practise proceedings before the General Medical Council. If you would require advice or assistance with any legal matter, please feel free to contact our regulatory team in confidence.

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