Abortions on gender grounds can be legal, the Director of Public Prosecutions has suggested in comments that have been roundly criticised.
On Monday Keir Starmer QC explained the decision not to charge two doctors who approved abortions because of the sex of the babies.
But health ministers have reacted to Mr Starmer’s statement, saying abortion on the grounds of gender alone is “unacceptable and illegal”, according to The Daily Telegraph.
Tory MP David Burrowes said the failure of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to prosecute “undermines” the UK’s argument on the world stage.
He said: “We are able to tell China and India that it is wrong to abort baby girls, but the CPS has concluded that it is legal to do it here.”
And editorials in two national newspapers said the decision “effectively” means abortion on demand is legal.
The editorial in The Daily Telegraph said: “We are seeing the meaning of the law being stretched to the point where it bears little resemblance to what is written in the Act.”
The Daily Mail editorial said it is “high time” for the law to be redrafted as there are 190,000 abortions a year.
Dr Peter Saunders, head of the Christian Medical Fellowship, said, “doctors have now become abortion’s chief perpetrators and are being given a free hand to carry it out in Britain on an industrial scale”, “without proper regulation and without fear of prosecution”.
An investigation by The Daily Telegraph last year found two doctors offering to arrange abortions after being told that the women did not want the baby because of its sex.
But Keir Starmer has set out reasons why no charges are being brought, saying said there was “just sufficient evidence” to prosecute but that it was not in the public interest.
He said the law does not “expressly prohibit gender-specific abortions” but stops them being carried out without two doctors “having formed a view, in good faith, that the health risks (mental or physical) of continuance outweigh those of termination”.
He said this gives a “wide discretion” to doctors in assessing the health risks of a pregnant patient.
He said: “The only basis for a prosecution would be that although we could not prove these doctors authorised a gender-specific abortion, they did not carry out a sufficiently robust assessment of the risks”.
The Attorney General Dominic Grieve said he was satisfied that the Director for Public Prosecution’s decision not to prosecute had been made “properly and conscientiously”.
He added: “It is for the DPP to make his decisions independently and based on the individual facts of the matter”.