Bradford West MP Naz Shah, shadow minister for women and equalities, said the non-invasive pre-natal test (NIPT), which is currently being rolled out by the NHS to detect Down’s syndrome and other genetic conditions, but can be paid for privately to determine gender, are being used by parents-to-be in some cultures, where a male child is preferred.
She said mothers and fathers could be forced “to adopt methods such as NIPT to live up to expectations of family members”.
“NIPT screenings should be used for their intended purpose, to screen for serious conditions such as Down’s syndrome,” she told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme. “The Government needs to look into this exploitative practice and enforce appropriate restrictions.”
On the NHS, parents-to-be are offered a combined blood and ultrasound test in the first three months of pregnancy to check for abnormalities. Most women and couples can find out the sex of the fetus at the 18 to 20-week scan offered by the NHS, but using NIPT, gender can be determined from nine to 10 weeks of pregnancy.
Director of external affairs at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Clare Murphy, said it did not support a ban. She added: “Sex selective abortion does not occur routinely in the UK, and statistics from the Department of Health do not show an unusual gender imbalance in any ethnic community in this country.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said it will “continue to review the evidence”.