MPs have rejected the opportunity to make sex-selective abortion explicitly illegal as they defeated an amendment from Fiona Bruce.
Powerful accounts of the abuse some women face were raised, as well as concerns that objections to the amendment were “flatly untrue” and “offensive”.
However MPs voted on Monday night to reject Mrs Bruce’s bid by 292 to 201 according to Hansard. The Government held a free vote while Labour MPs were directed to oppose the amendment.
Responding to the result, Mrs Bruce said the attempt to ensure clarity had been “stamped upon by Labour Party whipping”.
Rani Bilkhu, a long-time campaigner on the issue, commented: “This is an insult to the women we work with who have suffered under the burden of sex-selective abortion and have said they want clarity in the law”.
She added: “To think that a few Westminster bubble MPs could scupper such an important vote mocks the very fabric of British democracy. It is a disgrace.”
In her speech Mrs Bruce – the MP for Congleton – noted that while the Government says the practice is illegal, abortion providers are, “staggeringly”, still refusing to accept that interpretation.
She then referred to one woman who had three abortions on the basis of her babies’ sex, and said such women “deserve our support”.
Other MPs, including the Conservatives’ David Burrowes and DUP MP Jim Shannon, also spoke in support of the amendment.
Luciana Berger, responding to the issue for Labour, urged MPs to vote against Mrs Bruce’s amendment.
Ann Coffey suggested that supporting the proposal could lead to “the days of the botched backstreet abortions”.
Fiona Mactaggart claimed the plan “radically changes our abortion laws” in a “dangerous” way.
Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs had a free vote on the amendment but speaking for the Government, Health Minister Jane Ellison said the amendment was unnecessary.
Ahead of the vote the Trades Union Congress (TUC) had opposed the amendment, saying it had already “divided communities”.
Labour MPs were then also urged to reject Mrs Bruce’s call by Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper.
In the vote, among the 201 MPs to support an explicit ban were politicians from Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and other parties.
Party leaders David Cameron and Nick Clegg did not vote on the issue, while Ed Miliband voted against Mrs Bruce.
Commenting on the vote, Mrs Bruce said: “This vote showed what we all know but nobody wants to admit. The Abortion Act, which was drafted to permit abortion in serious circumstances, is broken beyond repair.
“Parliamentarians never imagined that women would try to abort for gender in 1967.
“But this attempt to update it to ensure that the law is clear has been stamped upon by Labour Party whipping.”