The boss of the nation's largest abortion charity said women are legally free to terminate pregnancies if they are unhappy with the sex of their baby.
A doctor agreeing to an abortion on the grounds of gender would be "breaking the law no more and no less" than a doctor performing the procedure on a rape victim, Ann Furedi said. Mrs Furedi, chief executive of BPAS, British Pregnancy Advisory Service, drew fire and praise from pro-life campaigners who said abortion laws are so wide doctors can virtually justify any reason a woman gives.
In an article, she said a woman wanting a boy rather than a girl "seems" consumerist and unethical. And she hit out telling people they cannot be pro-choice "except when you don't like the choice". Mrs Furedi, writing on the Spiked website, said if doctors decide going through with a pregnancy will damage the expectant mother's mental health, then abortion is within the law.
She said: "A doctor agreeing to an abortion 'on grounds of rape' would be breaking the law no more and no less than a doctor who agrees an abortion on grounds of sex selection. While it is true that the sex of the foetus is not a legal ground for abortion, nor is rape, or incest, or being 13 years old. Nor is being homeless, or abandoned, or just feeling there's no way you can bring a child into the world. None of these is grounds for abortion per se - yet they are all reasons why a doctor may believe a woman has met the legal grounds of abortion."
Doctors sign a legal document to confirm they are acting in good faith - that their honest belief is a woman meets the legal test because continuation of the pregnancy is likely to damage the woman's mental or physical health.
"Sex selection, like rape, may not be a ground for abortion, but there is no legal requirement to deny a woman an abortion if she has a sex preference, providing that the legal grounds are still met," Mrs Furedi wrote. "The big difference is this: Most people who think of themselves as liberal and modern-thinking believe that rape, incest, youth, poverty or even general 'unwantedness' are 'good reasons' for doctors to approve abortion; and they think 'sex selection' is a bad reason, which should be stopped.
"Today in Britain, it seems more acceptable to say you want an abortion because you don't want to be pregnant than to say you want an abortion because you don't want to be pregnant with a girl. Not wanting a baby because it's a girl - whereas you would like a baby boy - seems discriminatory, unethical, 'consumerist' even.
"Those calling for tighter controls to prevent sex-selection abortion are utterly mistaken if they believe that would help women. Supporters of clampdowns on sex-selection abortion are doing as much to undermine the future of women's abortion access as those anti-choice activists who protest outside clinics. We either support women's capacity to decide, or we don't. You can't be pro-choice except when you don't like the choice, because that's not pro-choice at all."
Professor Jack Scarisbrick, chairman of LIFE, said an inquiry should be held into the 1967 Abortion Act by the Department of Health and the Crown Prosecution Service. He likened the abortion industry to a "runaway bus", adding: "How else could the chief executive of BPAS, the largest abortion provider in the UK, boast that a woman can have an abortion without her 'needing to be seen by a doctor', when the law requires the authorisation of two doctors? How else could gender-selection abortion, i.e. aborting unborn girls simply because they are female, be potentially widely available in abortion clinics across the country?"
A LIFE spokesman said Mrs Furedi "has a point". He said: "You can argue anything and get away with it within the abortion law and therein lies our problem, and she captures it so well. It is wide open to interpretation."