The UK government has issued fresh guidelines to close a legal loophole that allowed sex-based abortions amid reports that several infant girls were "missing" in certain ethnic communities, largely British Asian, who have a cultural preference to a male child.
The updated Department of Health guidance issued yesterday warns that doctors who carry out abortions based on the sex of an unborn baby and pre-sign abortion forms are breaking the law.
Abortion clinics in Britain will also be required to explicitly recognise that gender-based abortions are illegal as part of their licence conditions.
The move follows reports earlier this year that anywhere between 1,500 and 4,700 infant girls were "missing" in certain ethnic communities in the UK, largely British Asian, who have a cultural preference to a male child.
Concerns over sex selection were raised after secret filming by the 'Daily Telegraph' appeared to show two Indian-origin doctors agreeing terminations of female foetuses could go ahead.
However, no charges were brought against them as the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said it was satisfied there was no intention to proceed with a termination.
A child birth data analysis in Britain by the 'Independent' newspaper in January had revealed that mothers born in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan were most likely to opt for gender-based abortions, while those born in India and Nepal were also singled out as a category likely to opt for such abortions.
An investigation into the work of abortion clinics found 14 were pre-signing certificates.
The law in Britain states that two doctors must certify an abortion under the terms of the 1967 Abortion Act.
But pre-signing suggests the second doctor has not considered that woman's individual case.
Under the updated guidance, doctors are reminded that pre-signing forms is not allowed and both doctors have a legal duty to certify abortions "in good faith".
Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service which is a major provider of abortions for the NHS, said it abided by the guidance.
But she added: "There is no clinical need for two doctors to certify a woman's reasons for abortion, in addition to obtaining her consent it simply causes delays."