Abortion investigation: Doctors filmed agreeing illegal abortions in Britain 'no questions asked'
DOCTORS at British clinics have been secretly filmed agreeing to terminate foetuses purely because they are either male or female.
Clinicians admitted they were prepared to falsify paperwork to arrange the abortions even though it is illegal to conduct such “sex-selection” procedures.
Responding to the undercover investigation by The Daily Telegraph British Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, 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 disclosures will add to growing concerns about the regulation of abortion clinics and the apparent ability of women to secure terminations “on demand”.
The Daily Telegraph carried out an investigation into sex-selection abortions after concerns were raised that the procedures were becoming increasingly common for cultural and social reasons.
Acting on specific information, undercover reporters accompanied pregnant women to nine clinics in different parts of the country. In three instances doctors were recorded offering to arrange terminations after being told the mother-to-be did not want to go ahead with the pregnancy because of the sex of the unborn child.
One consultant, Prabha Sivaraman, who works for both private clinics and NHS hospitals in Manchester, was filmed telling a pregnant woman who said she wanted to abort a female foetus: “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”.
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”.
Miss Sivaraman, who works for Pall Mall Medical in Manchester and is an obstetrician and gynaecologist at North Manchester General Hospital, said the cost of the termination would be £200 or £300, on top of the £500 already paid to the clinic for the consultation.
After taking the woman’s contact details, Miss Sivaraman asked her if she had considered her options.
“Oh, absolutely … I can’t have it, this baby, because of the gender, so that’s just how it is …” replied the woman.
The doctor booked the pregnant woman in for a termination the following week despite the reason for the abortion being clearly explained.
Another consultant, Claudine Domoney, who works with 132 Healthwise clinic in Harley Street, central London, agreed to arrange for a woman to abort a boy after being told that she and her husband already had a son from his first marriage. The practice is known as “family balancing”.
In a consultation room in the Chelsea and Westminster hospital, the woman, who was about 18 weeks pregnant, explained her reasons for the termination “It’s a boy, and that’s the reason, we don’t want to have a second boy.”
“It’s obviously taken a little bit of time to decide this?” asked Miss Domoney, in reference to the fact that the woman was 18 weeks pregnant.
The consultant was still happy to proceed but explained that as she was going away she would be unable to perform the procedure, so she telephoned a colleague to see if he could fit the pregnant woman in for the following week. “He is OK for Tuesday”, said Miss Domoney when she returned.
“So the two of us are very experienced in this area. He [the other doctor] will organise for you to have a room on the private ward he’s OK to do it on Tuesday.”
Miss Domoney said she was “uncomfortable” with the situation, so decided to refer the case to a colleague.
Stephanie Byrom, the chief executive of Pall Mall Medical, denied that the clinic offered terminations on the grounds of gender determination and said that if one of its consultants had breached its rules it would take “immediate action”.
At both clinics offering the sex-selection abortions, the pregnant women were not offered in-depth counselling on their decision to request a termination — despite the questionable grounds.
The Daily Telegraph intends to publish more disclosures from the investigation tomorrow, in particular a recording of a doctor offering to falsify paperwork.
MPs have raised concerns over the growing commercialisation of abortion clinics and David Cameron and Mr Lansley are under pressure to accept proposals that women should receive independent counselling before a procedure takes place.
Last year, the Council of Europe recommended that member states, including Britain, stop telling parents the gender of their baby because of concerns that this was encouraging sex-selection abortions. Many hospitals have stopped giving parents this information.
However, blood tests that disclose the sex of a foetus are widely available on the internet or abroad. An undercover reporter telephoning an abortion advice line was also told private clinics would be able to offer a scan — for a fee.
Abortions for non-medical reasons are legal until 24 weeks, but terminations on grounds of sex of the foetus are illegal under the 1967 Abortion Act.
Doctors must agree that there is a compelling case for termination, but it is claimed that many abortions are agreed “on demand” and that the official paperwork does not fully reflect the discussions that have taken place.
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 foetuses are aborted.
The women accompanying Telegraph reporters to consultations were from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.
At each appointment, the pregnant woman explained that she had taken a blood test abroad or had a scan to determine the sex of the foetus and wanted a termination because of the gender. Staff at several clinics agreed to arrange abortions for women who said they did not want to continue with their pregnancies because of the sex of their babies.
However, at other clinics, doctors made it clear that terminations because of gender were not legal and said they were unable to help. The disclosures will increase pressure on the Care Quality Commission, the NHS watchdog, which is already facing criticism over its failure to regulate care homes properly.