Hunt intervenes in gender-abortion case

The attorney general has been asked to explain why two doctors who allegedly offered to perform abortions for couples who did not want a baby girl are not being taken to court.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has written to Dominic Grieve asking for "urgent clarification" after the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided it was not in the public interest to pursue the case.

"We are clear that gender selection abortion is against the law and completely unacceptable," Hunt said.

"This is a concerning development and I have written to the attorney general to ask for urgent clarification on the grounds for this decision."

The decision comes despite a filmed undercover operation by the Telegraph newspaper, which showed the doctors agreeing to arrange terminations for women who said they did not want a baby girl.

Some immigrant communities are more likely to terminate a pregnancy if they discover it is a girl. In some hospitals, the phenomenon has led managers to stop telling parents the gender of their unborn child.

The practice of gender abortion is particularly prevalent in India and China.

After a 19-month inquiry, the CPS said there was enough evidence to warrant prosecution with a "realistic prospect of conviction" but that the case did not meet the public interest test.

The General Medical Council, which oversees doctors but has no criminal powers, is now likely to receive the case.

"Taking into account the need for professional judgment which deals firmly with wrongdoing, while not deterring other doctors from carrying out legitimate and medically justified abortions, we have concluded that the cases would be better dealt with by the GMC rather than by prosecution," Jenny Hopkins, deputy chief crown prosecutor for London said.

Emily Thornberry, Labour shadow attorney general wrote to the director of public posecutions to request an urgent review of the decision.

The full text of the letter is below:

Dear Keir

I am writing to request that you carry out an urgent review of the decision by the Crown Prosecution Service not to prosecute two doctors for attempting to arrange gender-selective abortions. As I understand it, the evidential test of the Crown Prosecutors Code had been met in these cases but prosecutors decided that it would not be in the public interest to bring them to court because they could be brought before the General Medical Council (GMC) instead.

As you will know, the GMC is a regulator and cannot bring criminal proceedings. The provisions of the Abortion Act 1967 are crystal clear. The conduct of abortions for reasons not stated in that Act is a criminal offence, not just a regulatory one. To decide not prosecute because a regulator can hear the matter instead is to disapply the law and undermine the will of Parliament.

Furthermore, the CPS under your directorship has made tackling violence against women and girls a priority. Such progress as has been made in this area will be completely undermined if the agency is seen to wash its hands of alleged abortion on the grounds of gender selection.

I would like to know if you or any of your senior advisors approved the decision not to prosecute. I would also like to see that decision subjected to an urgent review at the highest level within the CPS and for you to make a public statement clarifying the CPS’s stance on prosecuting these offences. I am copying into this letter the Attorney General.

Best wishes

Emily Thornberry MP