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Data showing a disproportionate number of boys born to immigrant mothers in the UK stokes fears that sex-selective abortions are on the rise.
LONDON, UK — British ministers have admitted that illegal abortions of unwanted girl babies could be taking place in the United Kingdom's immigrant communities.
Earl Howe, a British health minister, unveiled the government's statistics, which showed that birth rates for girls and boys varied noticeably, depending on where their mothers were born, The Daily Telegraph reported.
"While the overall United Kingdom birth ratio is within normal limits, analysis of birth data for the calendar years from 2007 to 2011 has found the gender ratios at birth vary by mothers’ country of birth," said Howe, according to The Daily Mail.
There are fears that sex-selective abortions may have been imported by migrants from China or India, where the practice is commonplace.
More from GlobalPost: Sex selection about more than gender discrimination
Pregnancy terminations based on gender have been illegal in the UK since a prohibition was lifted in 1967 to allow abortions on fetuses up to 28 weeks into pregnancy on grounds of physical or psychological risk to the mother or in cases where the baby was likely to be born severely physically or mentally handicapped.
Medical advances in preserving the life of premature babies have resulted in the limit being subsequently reduced to 24 weeks.
Until now there have been few concerns about sex-selective abortions, with debate being confined to the broader issue of legalization and justifiable grounds for termination.
Recent polls show about 75 percent of Britons remain in favor of legalized abortion.
While health officials concede the skewed birth rates in favor of boys could be a naturally-occurring anomaly, there are enough concerns to investigate the matter further.
But some lawmakers say the fears justify the need for clearer and more comprehensive data collection by the National Health Service, Britain's provider of free medical care, from women seeking abortions.
"Identifying the gender of aborted foetuses raises serious ethical and clinical issues," said a spokesman for the Department of Health, according to The Telegraph. "We absolutely have no plans to introduce such a practice and any suggestion that ministers are considering otherwise is inaccurate."