Pro-life campaigners in the UK have been given a boost in recent days with the news that a doctor who was filmed allegedly agreeing to arrange abortions on gender grounds must now appear in a criminal court to face an allegation under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act. Dr Prabha Sivaraman will appear in court next month.
The incident, which formed part of an undercover investigation undertaken by the Daily Telegraph in 2012, provoked shock among commentators in the UK, and strengthened the case for clarity on the law in this area.
Large abortion providers, like the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (providing around 60,000 abortions a year), disagree with the widespread acceptance that abortion for reasons of gender is illegal. Indeed, on their website, the BPAS continue to insist that abortions for reasons of gender is not illegal because the law is silent on the matter.
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That could be about to change thanks to a motion recently brought before the Houses of Parliament by a cross-party alliance which would declare for once and for all that gender-based abortion is illegal and does not fall within the grounds allowed under the 1967 Abortion Act.
The motion was passed overwhelmingly by 181 to 1 and it now goes forward for a second reading in January 2015. For now, it offers huge hope to pro-life campaigners that the sickening practice of gender-based abortion will become a thing of the past.
Insisting that a doctor must come before a court and answer charges in this way is a new departure in the UK. The case is a private prosecution brought by a pro-life campaigner after the Crown Prosecution Service decided against charging Dr. Sivaraman and another doctor involved in the same undercover investigation.
Ireland has seen its fair share of cases where health workers have found to be acting in a less than exemplary matter. The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), an affiliate of International Planned Parenthood, is a main offender. It is now over two years since an undercover operation revealed the dangerous advice being given to women in their clinics. IFPA counselors told women they could falsify their medical records, telling doctors they had had a miscarriage instead of an abortion. They coached women on how to source and order illegal abortion pills, treating their health and wellbeing in a reckless manner when those women were at their most vulnerable.
With the exception of one mainstream newspaper, all of the Irish media ignored the story of how the IFPA had misused the trust put in them by their clients. A Department of Health Investigation into these practices was announced in November 2012 and never reported. To this day, we don’t know exactly what advice is being given out.
When illegal practices were discovered in the UK, members of parliament were quick to act and organise a motion that would clarify the position into the future. The doctor at the centre of the allegations will be expected to explain her actions in a court of law.
Why are things so different in Ireland? There are some members of the Irish Parliament who are making valiant efforts to get answers on this issue but to date the Department of Health has not provided clear responses.
The IFPA should be no different to other health providers that are found to be breaching standards and suggesting that laws are broken. They must be held to account for their actions so that women are sure that when they attend state-funded clinics in Ireland, they are not putting their health at risk.