British clinicians are carrying out selective abortions for mothers-to-be that do not want to continue their pregnancy because of the unborn child's sex, an undercover investigation by the Daily Telegraph has revealed.
The exposé found sex-selection abortions becoming increasingly common after women cited "cultural and social reasons" as their main motive for aborting.
The procedures were mostly carried out in private practices, shying away from the country's publicly funded healthcare system, the National Health Service.
The Daily Telegraph filmed one consultant, Prabha Sivaraman, telling a pregnant woman who said she wanted to abort a female fetus: "I don't ask questions. If you want a termination, you want a termination."
She later telephoned a colleague to book the procedure, explaining that it was for "social reasons" and the woman "doesn't want questions asked," the newspaper reported.
She said to her colleague: "This [the termination] will be under private, she doesn't want to go through NHS. OK, so - that's right, because you're part of our team and she doesn't want questions asked."
Sivaraman then said the cost of the termination would be £200 ($314) or £300, on top of the £500 already paid to the clinic for the consultation.
The clinician then asked the woman if she had considered her options, to which the woman replied: "Oh, absolutely ... I can't have it, this baby, because of the gender, so that's just how it is ..." replied the woman.
A termination was then booked for the following week.
Under UK law, abortions for non-medical reasons are legal until 24 weeks, but terminations on grounds of sex of the fetus are illegal under the 1967 Abortion Act.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said he was "extremely concerned" about the allegations made by the Daily Telegraph.
He said: "I'm extremely concerned to hear about these allegations. Sex selection is illegal and is morally wrong. I've asked my officials to investigate this as a matter of urgency."
The investigation also caught out another consultant, Claudine Domoney, agreed to arrange for a woman who was 18 weeks pregnant to abort a boy after being told that she and her husband already had a son from his first marriage.
Such a practice is known as "family balancing."
"In 2010 there were 189,574 terminations in England and Wales, an eight per cent increase in the past decade. There is some evidence that more female than male fetuses are aborted," the Daily Telegraph stated.
Family balancing in India, China
Sex selection has been a poorly misunderstood phenomenon across the world, most prevalently in countries such as India and China, where "family balancing" is a popular practice.
Half a million girls a year are being aborted in India, prompting a high sex imbalance ratio in the country, according to the country's 2011 census results.
Analysts have attributed the growing gap to "a powerful lobby of doctors and commercial interests who sell ultrasound machines; both make profits from the illegal, multimillion dollar sex selection procedures" said Guardian columnist Madeleine Bunting.
"There is also evidence that high-caste Hindus are more likely to use the practice than Muslims," Bunting added.
A study by Sonia Bhalotra, from the Center for Market and Public Organization, suggests that cultural practices - parents live with their sons until death and it is the son who lights the funeral pyre - may be among the factors driving sex selection.
Increasingly-popular sex selection abortion procedures in China and South Korea have also been documented by researchers.
In 2005 in China, "it was estimated that 1.1 million excess males were born across the country and that the number of males under the age of 20 years exceeded the number of females by around 32 million," stated a report by the UCL Centre for International Health and Development in the UK.
But for Britain, a multicultural nation of over 60 million people from different ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds, government officials could soon raise concerns over the phenomenon becoming increasingly widespread.
(Written by Eman El-Shenawi)
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