My Lords, in 2012 the Secretary of State instructed the Care Quality Commission to inspect NHS and independent abortion providers to ensure compliance with the Abortion Act 1967. The Chief Medical Officer also wrote to all providers of abortion services, reminding them of their obligations under the Act. All allegations of illegal abortions are taken very seriously and should be reported to the police, who will, if appropriate, conduct a criminal investigation.
My Lords, is it not the case that early last year the Government’s own care quality inspectors found, in a number of abortion clinics, piles of forms signed by doctors authorising abortions for women they had never seen, let alone examined? Was it not also reported that other abortions were being done for non-medical reasons such as that the child coming was a girl? Why has so little been done to stop these happenings when they are so blatantly against the law of the land?
My Lords, the Care Quality Commission has put in place procedures to identify pre-signing or other instances of non-compliance, and they are confident that these would now be picked up during inspections. However, my noble friend is right; there was a concern early last year that this pre-signing was happening. Since then, however, the CQC has been working directly with providers who are registered to provide termination of pregnancy services to ensure that they are complying with the requirements of the Act. It is beginning to explore how it can strengthen the registration process alongside its regular inspection activities. I therefore suggest to my noble friend that it is not a case of nothing having happened.
On sex selection, we have no evidence at all of gender-related abortions in the UK. Again, concerns were expressed about this in the press, but analysis has been done that shows that the UK birth ratio is within normal limits.
My Lords, does the noble Earl accept that some cases were referred to the police last year where gender abortions were identified? Will he welcome the decision of Ranjit Bilkhu and a group of Asian women in this country to set up an organisation to challenge the attitude that it is permissible to take the life of an unborn child merely because of its gender? Has he noted the Private Member’s Bill of the Member of Parliament for Congleton, Mrs Fiona Bruce, and the Early Day Motion, signed by more than 50 Members of another place, drawing attention to the need at least to collect the data where the gender of a child is known so that we can truly know whether or not this phenomenon is occurring in this country as it does in many other parts of the world, where the three most dangerous words are, “It’s a girl.”?
My Lords, I am aware of all the initiatives mentioned by the noble Lord. The issue of the sex selection of foetuses is, of course, extremely serious. However, as I mentioned in my earlier Answer, following extensive investigation and analysis we do not believe that there is any evidence that this is happening in the UK. That is the prime reason why we do not agree with the noble Lord that measures should be put in place to collect data regularly on the sex of the aborted foetus. Were we to do that it would require changes to legislation. It would also require changes to clinical practice, and it has ethical implications. I hope the noble Lord will understand that we have thought about this very carefully.
I thank the Minister for the steps that have been taken to stop abuses of the 1967 Act. Will he confirm that there has been a welcome drop in the total number of abortions recently, but that there is still a problem of what are called repeat abortions, where women present who are clearly using abortion as a form of contraception, which is thoroughly undesirable?
My noble friend is right. The abortion rate across England and Wales has been static since 2009. The good news is that the abortion rate for women under 18 has gone down. There was a 9.6% decrease in the rate between 2010 and 2011. On repeat abortions, the news is not so good. The proportion of repeat abortions for women who had abortions in 2011 was 36%. The figure was higher than it had been the previous year, which is a matter for concern.
My Lords, I very much welcome the figures that the Minister gave on the number of abortions going down for younger women, and regret the figure for repeat abortions. Naturally, we must do everything possible to stop illegal abortions. However, will the Minister confirm that it is important that women who need abortions should not be impeded in any way, and that sex education and education about relationships are terribly important? I hope that the Government will be open to accepting amendments to the forthcoming education Bill on that issue.
I am sure that those issues should be discussed very thoroughly. I agree that young people should be taught about relationships. However, I also believe that access to contraception is very important. Our data show that there has been no decrease in the number of women using contraception, and that more women are turning to extremely effective measures such as long-acting contraception. It is encouraging that the abortion rate for the under-18s is coming down.
The vast majority of abortions are performed at under 13 weeks. The figure was 91% in 2011. There has been a continuing increase in the proportion of abortions that are performed under 10 weeks. Again, that is positive news. I do not have detailed information on the issue which the noble Baroness asked about, but I will write to her.