Catholic Medical Quarterly

The Journal of the Catholic Medical Association (UK)

Building knowledge. Building faith. Protecting the vulnerable.

Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 64(1) February 2014

Abortion: legalised discrimination against women

Dr Adrian Treloar

Dr Adrian TreloarThe British nation was shocked in 2013 when undercover reporters working for the Telegraph showed that it was easy to obtain an abortion in the UK on the grounds that the baby is a girl [1]. There has long been scandal for many years about sex selective abortions in India and China where the birth ratio of boys to girls is as high as 1.17 [2]. In simple terms that means that in part of the world as many as 15% of all conceived girls are killed by abortion simply because they are girls. That in itself is a shocking statistic showing how females are discriminated against in society. But most still hoped that such things would not happen and were illegal in Britain. Sadly this is not true. Abortion in this country is effectively a legal tool of discrimination on grounds of sex.

Of course abortion creates at least one (dead) victim every time it is done. But the victims of abortion are even more common than that. Abortion is strongly associated with poor maternal mental health, with higher rates of depression, substance abuse and all cause mortality than in women who do not abort. [3]. While the somewhat controversial College of Psychiatrists report into mental health  and abortion did not find evidence of causal link between abortion and bad mental outcomes [4] that report clearly found no protective impact of abortion on mental health with plenty of evidence that maternal mental health is much worse in women who abort. Fergusson [5] and Coleman [6] have presented more recent evidence that further bolsters that view.

ultrasound of pregnancyFergusson finds “no available evidence to suggest that abortion has therapeutic effects in reducing the mental health risks of unwanted or unintended pregnancy. There is suggestive evidence that abortion may be associated with small to moderate increases in risks of some mental health problems.” And we know that many women are pressurised into abortion by their peers, by nurses and doctors. Health care professionals can be especially good at pressuring women into aborting disabled children. Setting out for example the negative challenges of Down syndrome, while omitting the positive aspects of not terminating a pregnancy easily builds upon stigma and assumptions about disability. The 1967 Abortion Act specifically allows abortion up to birth for disability. Now, after almost 50 years of legalised abortion, babies with disabilities such as Down syndrome are seen as a scourge and as people who should not be allowed into society by being born. Thus the Abortion Act is legalised discrimination against disabled people, and also acts to encourage and deepen further discrimination against disabled people. Abortion consolidates the status of disabled people as victims.

The articles in this issue by Lynn Murray [6] and Ann Farmer [7] are welcome additions to the literature on the way in which we structure our health services to accept and promote abortion. Having accepted abortion,   foetuses become commodities. Foetal tissue is “shopped for” and used to promote profits elsewhere.

But we all thought that in the UK the abortion of girls on the grounds of their being female was illegal. Actually, the Abortion Act says nothing about sex selection, and allows abortion on the (entirely un-evidenced [8]) grounds that abortion is necessary to protect the mental health of the mother. If that is accepted, then it is simple to make the claim that having a girl will be bad for the mother or the siblings. While shocking that is precisely the conclusion that the Director of Public Prosecutions come up with in his judgement on the Telegraph case [9]. He decided that the grounds for abortion were so murky that prosecuting a doctor who had clearly allowed abortion on the ground of female gender would be unlikely to succeed. A defence that the abortion was infact legal under the existing 1967 Act would, he said, have been likely to succeed.

Professor Wendy Savage (a British gynaecologist, and advocate and campaigner of women's rights in childbirth and fertility) told the Guardian of her concerns that this story had been picked up by the Health Minister Jeremy Hunt to "chip away" at women's right to choose. On the BBC Moral Maze programme [10] she clearly defended the “right “ of women to the right to choose what happens to her body, and to abort a child on the grounds of its gender. As a feminist she found herself in the unenviable position of defending the legality of aborting girls

And just for the record, it is worth noting that it is unquestionably the case that aborting a mixed race child conceived out of wedlock will be entirely legal in the UK if that child will, upon birth, be seen by its colour to have been conceived out of wedlock. We also know that both unintended pregnancy and abortion are more common among Black and Hispanic people in the US [11]. In the US the abortion rate among blacks is five times that of whites.

If abortion is available, abortion must inevitably discriminate against unwanted people. Abortion is bound to discriminate on the basis of colour.

Keir Starmer [12] declared that ”the law does not, in terms, expressly prohibit gender-specific abortions; rather, it prohibits any abortion carried out without two medical practitioners having formed a view, in good faith, that the health risks (mental or physical) of continuance outweigh those of termination. This gives a wide discretion to doctors in assessing the health risks of a pregnant patient.“
And he added that prosecutors would face ‘real difficulties’ if they tried to bring charges against doctors for failing to assess the health of their patients properly. (Daily Mail - 7/10/2013)

Keir Starmer said the Act prohibited “any abortion carried out without two medical practitioners having formed a view, in good faith, that the health risks of continuing with a pregnancy outweigh those of a termination.” “The only basis for a prosecution would be that the doctors failed to carry out a ‘sufficiently robust assessment’ of the risks to their patient’s health,”

We can only conclude from this that the law in this country is unjust and inevitably increases discrimination against women by enabling the destruction of people on the sole grounds that they are women, black or disabled. .

A Catholic response

Abortion is unjust and contrary to the Commandments and the Magisterial teaching of the Church.. Killing innocent people is an atrocity which  the Church cannot accept. From its earliest days the disabled have been cherished and protected by the Church [13].

In every woman seeking abortion whom we meet, we must remember the victims of a completed abortion. The dead child is always the victim of abortion. The Church will always stand full square behind the dead victim. The Church must work to remedy the unjust laws that allow abortion. We must resists laws which embed even more deeply predjudices against women, disability and even colour.

But we must also be there for the mother and other victims of abortion. Often enough the mother is also a victim. Broen [14] found that the negative effects of abortion worsen and persist for years after the abortion. Broen found that women who experienced induced abortion had significantly higher rating scores for avoidance and for feelings of guilt, shame and relief than the comparator group of women who suffer and miscarriage at two and five years after the pregnancy termination. We must (and do) support the mothers who are victims of abortion.

Finally, for those women who decide not to abort babies we must, as Pope Francis has said, welcome child and mother with open arms. These are the heroes who have embraced prejudice and the criticism of others by keeping a beautiful child. Such mothers are the truly brave, and deserve our deepest respect and support.

Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us.”
Pope Francis

In clinical situations, the CMA has already published advice on counselling women who are considering abortion. [15,16]


  1. Daily Telegraph. Sex-selection abortions are 'widespread’
  2. Pollard A. The Crisis of declining human fertility. Catholic Medical Quarterly 2013 (Feb)
  3. Gissler, M.,, Pregnancy-associated mortality after birth, spontaneous abortion, or induced abortion in Finland, l987-2000., American J. ObGyn (2004)190, 422-7
  4. National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (2011) . Induced abortion and mental health.
  5. Fergusson D, Horwood J, Boden J (2013) Does abortion reduce the mental health risks of unwanted or unintended pregnancy? A re-appraisal of the evidence. Aust N Z J Psychiatry vol. 47 no. 9 819-827
  6. Coleman P (2011) Abortion and mental health: quantitative synthesis and analysis of research published 1995–2009. The British Journal of Psychiatry 199: 180-186
  7. Lynn Murray (2014). Down syndrome; Blessings and Eugenics. Catholic Medical Quarterly Vol 64(1) February.
  8. Farmer Ann (2014) Abortion: Woman’s Right or Body Parts Industry? Catholic Medical Quarterly Vol 64(1) February.
  9. Abortion Act (1967)
  10. BBC Moral Maze 12th October 2013.        
  11. Finer L, Henshaw S (2006). Disparities in Rates of Unintended Pregnancy in the United States, 1994 and 2001
    Volume 38, Number 2, June 2006
  13. Treloar A. (2013) St Lawrence, the unborn child, and medicine. Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 63(1) February
  14. Broen A et al (2005) The course of mental health after miscarriage and induced abortion: a longitudinal, five-year follow-up study. BMC Med. 2005; 3: 18.
  15. CMA (2013) How can I advise a woman who comes to see me asking for an abortion? Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 63(1) February
  16. Abortion and the Catholic Doctor. Catholic Medical Association