‘You can’t be pro-choice only when you like the choice’
Hannah Farrington, University of Manchester
British Pregnancy Advisory Service chief executive Ann Furedi has recently spoken out against criticisms levelled at the Crown Prosecution Service after they refused to prosecute doctors who appeared to agree to sex-selective abortions when approached by undercover journalists from the Daily Telegraph. High profile politicians including Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Labour’s Shadow Attorney General, Emily Thornberry, have expressed their disapproval of the CPS decision, but Furedi is adamant that there is no need for a change in the law.
In her article for libertarian online magazine Spiked, Furedi writes that sex-selective abortions are in fact legal in certain circumstances. Under the Abortion Act 1967 a doctor is permitted to decide whether or not to proceed with an abortion based on how continuing with a pregnancy will affect the health (including mental health) of the pregnant woman, regardless of any specific reasons she may have. As such, Furedi points out, where such an impact on health is found, abortion on the grounds of the sex of the foetus is no more illegal than abortion on the grounds of rape, or that the pregnant woman is thirteen years old.
As well as maintaining that sex-selective abortions are legal, Furedi explains why the current law should not be altered to make them illegal. As well as the obvious restrictions on a woman’s right to choose that this would inevitably bring about, Furedi recognises that contrary to the message which is implied and even explicitly stated recently in the media, ‘the only time a woman walks in and requests an abortion because the foetus is the ‘wrong gender’ is when she’s a journalist’. She also stresses that whilst a vast number of MPs argue that sex-selective abortion ‘harms women by reinforcing misogynist attitudes’, in fact ‘those calling for tighter controls to prevent sex-selection abortion are utterly mistaken if they believe that would help women’.
Furedi’s arguments have been met with fierce criticism in the media; she was directly attacked by The Daily Mail, and faced with aggressive opposing views on Newsnight and This Morning. She appeared to take this in her stride, however, offering very articulate and reasonable rebuttals and eloquent explanations of her opinions.
Since then, the Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC has released a statement and has written to the Attorney General explaining and justifying his decision not to prosecute the doctors ‘exposed’ by the Daily Telegraph journalists. The statement again clarifies first and foremost that ‘the law does not … expressly prohibit gender-specific abortions’, but also places great weight on the fact that the undercover journalist involved stated other reasons for wanting to have an abortion, as well as the potential sex of her unborn child. Starmer’s letter to the Attorney-General also adds, however, that the decision not to prosecute in these cases ‘should not be taken as an indication that criminal proceedings will not be brought where an abortion is procured on gender-specific grounds’, leaving the door open for future prosecutions in this area, but with little indication as to when they might be instigated by the agency.
The CPS’ decision not to prosecute doctors who agreed to sex-selective abortions is encouraging. More worrying, however, is the impetus it has given some politicians and anti-choice advocates to call for further restrictions on access to abortion in England and Wales.
‘Porn is making addicts of our sons’ …but is it?
Kayleigh Patterson, University of Manchester
Over the last few months debate over pornography has dominated the media, with David Cameron calling for stricter regulation over what sort of porn is accessible over the internet.
Much of the concern is centered on the possible effect that porn has on children and their behaviour going into adulthood, particularly after reports that the killers of April Jones and Tia Sharpe had accessed violent child pornography on the internet. This prompts the question whether their acts were influenced by the material they had viewed and, in turn, whether viewing violent pornography could also negatively affect children’s behavior. The response to this has been a series of media campaigns, documentaries and articles such as a recent article in The Times ‘Porn is making addicts of out sons‘, advocating the restriction of pornography over the internet and focusing on the idea of ‘porn addiction’.
Channel 4 documentary ‘Porn on the brain’ recently carried out research into porn addictions and found that the brains of those addicted to porn were stimulated whilst viewing, in a similar way to those addicted to drugs. However, despite there being some research into porn addiction, a recent article in The Independent has pointed out that there is less scientific evidence than often supposed to support claims about the long term effect of porn on children. Although the viewing of pornography has been found in studies to correlate with sexual deviancy and aggression – particularly in those who are already ‘sexually aggressive’ – no strict causal relationship between the two has been established.
Is it fair and right, then, to impose restrictions on access to pornography on the basis of claims unsupported by scientific proof?
In any case, recent public and political debates seem to point to a shift towards more control over pornography in the very near future, as David Cameron aims to ensure all internet service providers voluntarily impose “opt out” internet filters by 2014.
April Ashley: Liverpool embraces its transgender history
Olivia Doherty, University of Manchester
The Museum of Liverpool has recently opened an exhibition of the story of April Ashley which strives to educate people on transgender issues in the UK.
April Ashley, a 78 year old transgender model, helped to shape the transgender community in Britain when she became one of the first people in history to undergo gender reassignment surgery. Growing up as a boy in working-class Liverpool in the 1940s, April was subjected to years of harrowing abuse due to her “feminine good looks” at a time when the ‘taboo’ topic of transgenderism was little discussed nor recognised.
April joined the navy at the age of 14 and the suppression of her true identity led to a suicide attempt and her incarceration within a mental health unit. Her story of transition begins to take shape when she fled to France to pursue a career on stage. It was in Paris that April, then 26 years old, decided that she would have the risky operation to change her gender which she underwent in Casablanca, Morocco.
On her own website, ‘April Ashley’, she recalls that the completion of her gender reassignment operation was the happiest day of her life and she felt free for the first time from this point on. She became an adored model for Vogue, until 1961 when her ‘friend’ sold her story to a newspaper. She was subjected as a result to a torrent of prejudice from an intolerant society. However, this spurred April on and was the catalyst for the steps that led to the relatively safer and more tolerant society in which transgender people live today.
In 1970, April became embroiled in the most important legal decision on transgender rights of the era, when she sought a divorce following her marriage to Arthur Corbett in the High Court case of Corbett v Corbett (1970). Famously, the judge Lord Justice Ormrod declared the marriage to be void on the basis that April had been born biologically a man.
Since then, there have been seismic changes to the legal position of transgender people. Since 1999, gender reassignment surgery has been accessible through the National Health Service while the ground-breaking Gender Recognition Act 2004 now also allows transgender people to be recognised in their chosen sex, effectively overturning the Corbett decision.
April Ashley’s life and work helped to change attitudes towards transgender people around the world. The Director of Liverpool Museum, Janet Dugdale celebrated the exhibitions significance by stating that it will have “international importance” for transgender people over the world. April was awarded an MBE in 2012 for her work in the transgender community and her on-going campaigning for equal rights.
UK asylum seekers required to “prove” sexual orientation
Olivia Doherty, University of Manchester
The UK House of Commons Home Affairs Committee has found that those seeking asylum on grounds of persecution on the ground of their sexual orientation are forced to go through stringent, lengthy and often unreasonable procedures in order to “prove” their homosexuality, often involving claimants handing over photographic or video evidence of “highly personal sexual activity”. This follows in the wake of a ground-breaking UK Supreme Court ruling, which for the first time recognised persecution on grounds of sexual orientation as a legitimate ground for asylum. The UK Border Agency has come under renewed scrutiny after MPs flagged up the number of cases left inconclusive due to failures of proof. Reports suggest that nearly 33,000 cases have been left precariously undecided for this reason, often leaving asylum seekers in substandard living conditions as result.
In one particular case, a male asylum seeker from Senegal brought evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee which corroborates these claims. It was found that the 26 year old had to “prove” his sexual orientation, to avoid deportation back to his own country, where he had been tortured for being gay. For the first eighteen months he was also held in a series of detention centres without ever receiving a full explanation for why this was deemed necessary.
The Home Affairs Committee has concluded that asylum seekers should not have to experience such indignity, and that current tests requiring claimants to prove their sexual orientation have in many instances gone beyond the realms of reasonableness.