Forcing pregnant women who do not want a child of one sex or the other to give birth could harm both the baby and the mother’s mental health, a leading doctors’ union member has said.
Prof Wendy Savage, a voting member of the British Medical Association Council, also said women should have the right to terminate a pregnancy at any stage.
The comments by Prof Savage, a women’s rights campaigner and retired obstetrician and gynaecologist, come after a proposal to decriminalise terminations passed the first hurdle in the House of Commons last week.
Her intervention is likely to spark a strong reaction from campaigners on both sides of the argument.
Prof Savage said sex-selective abortions were a “myth” and hit out at NHS hospitals which refused to disclose an unborn baby’s sex.
Parents wanting to find out the sex of their baby can usually do so in a mid-term scan at between 18 to 21 weeks, but some hospitals have a policy of not telling, according to the NHS Choices website.
Prof Savage, speaking in a personal capacity, told the Mail on Sunday: “Because of this sort of anxiety, some places won’t tell the woman the sex of the foetus, which is outrageous.
“It’s her body and her foetus, so she should have that information … if a woman does not want to have a foetus who is one sex or the other, forcing her (to go through with the pregnancy) is not going to be good for the eventual child, and it’s not going to be good for (the mother’s) mental health.”
Under current laws, it is illegal for a woman to have an abortion after 24 weeks for non-medical reasons and each procedure must be signed off by two doctors before it can go ahead.
But Prof Savage said in her experience she only had a “couple” of cases over more than 24 weeks.
She told the newspaper: “It is a woman’s right to decide. It’s her body. She is the one taking the risks.
“The foetus is a potential human life at that stage (in the womb); it is not an actual human life … I think you’ve got to concentrate on the (rights of the) woman.”
MPs last week voted in favour of the Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill, which would remove criminal sanctions for women and doctors in England and Wales and place regulation with professional bodies.
But Christian MP Maria Caulfield warned the change could bring about a rise in “back street abortions”.