The call stems from concerns the test could lead to a rise in the abortion of baby girls because there is a preference towards boys in some cultures.
The non-invasive pre-natal test (NIPT) is actually used to detect genetic conditions in pregnancy such as Down’s Syndrome and is due to be rolled out by the NHS as an additional part of its antenatal screening services.
But as the test can also be used to detect the sex of the baby, some MPs have raised concerns the tests could be misused.
“NIPT screenings should be used for their intended purpose, to screen for serious conditions such as Down’s syndrome,” Labour MP Naz Shah, shadow minister for women and equalities told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme.
“The government needs to look into this exploitative practice and enforce appropriate restrictions.”
In a report by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, Genetic Alliance UK acknowledged concerns about sex selective abortion linked to NIPT tests, but believed that preventing the tests could undermine women’s reproductive choices.
“Women should not be prevented from learning the sex of the fetus when receiving NIPT as recommended by the UK NSC,” it stated. “In the UK public opposition to sex selection for non-medical reasons has been repeatedly and clearly demonstrated, including in the form of a specific prohibition in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008.
“However, it is very challenging to enforce this without negatively impacting on the reproductive autonomy of the woman. Any regulation which, for example, attempted to penalise individual women for perceived non-medical sex selection, would not only have very negative consequences for women’s rights in the UK, it would also not be effective, as UK regulation is easy to circumvent by travelling or sending a blood sample abroad.”
In the same report BPAS also expressed the view that women should be able to access information about fetal sex using NIPT, arguing that concerns about sex selective terminations did not justify restricting women’s access to the information.
“The suggestion that women are using information about fetal sex to make decisions about abortion was recently used by MPs opposed to women’s reproductive choice to place further restrictions on access to terminations,” a spokesperson for BPAS said.
“BPAS worked with organisations supporting women experiencing honour- based violence, and from communities in which son-preference is an issue, to help parliamentarians understand that the solution to issues of gender inequality do not lie in further restricting women’s reproductive rights.”
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