David Smith / The Canadian Press

Barbara Kay: Sex-selection abortion versus a girl’s right to live

An ingenious social media campaign, #280today, succinctly conveys the estimated number of pregnancies terminated every day in Canada by induced abortion. That comes out to over 100,000 a year.

Canadians who support a woman’s right to an abortion are sympathetic to, or at least non-judgmental, regarding most of the reasons women decide to have an abortion. But there is one that sticks in the craw of most of us: sex selection abortion – more precisely female sex selection abortion.

A new Canadian study suggests that women immigrants from India are choosing to abort female foetuses at an alarming rate.

As National Post’s Robyn Urback pointed out in a recent column, in the case of most abortions, women are fearful of their own welfare when they terminate a pregnancy. But in the case of sex selection abortion, “the reason is driven entirely by who that child is, or will become.” Canadians consider men and women equal in value, but there are cultural enclaves within Canada where, not to put too fine a point on it, one sex is deemed more equal than the other, and the more equal sex is male.

In the past 30 years, since ultrasounds that reveal the sex of the fetus became standard procedure in monitoring a pregnancy, the normal male:female birth ratio has skewed alarmingly male in many patriarchal countries like India and China and, in the West, in communities where patriarchal cultural norms dominate.

A new Canadian study suggests, for example, that women immigrants from India are choosing to abort female foetuses at an alarming rate. The normal ratio of males to females is about 105 to 100. Amongst Indian-born mothers with two children, the ratio jumps to 138:100; and with three children 166:100. The ratio rises to 326 boys per 100 girls for Indian-born mothers with two daughters who had an abortion preceding her third birth.

These figures should not come as a surprise. We have been aware of the issue for decades. Even in 1993, when the problem was not nearly as serious as it is today, Canada’s Royal Commission on New Reproductive technologies released a report showing that 90% of Canadians were uncomfortable with sex-selection abortion.

Apart from the obvious ethical concerns associated with this practice, sex selection abortion on the mass scale we are seeing globally is a recipe for sociological disaster. In male-skewing societies, adult males must compete for female partners, which encourages troublesome behaviours and anti-social activities. Nothing good can come out of such disrespect for maintaining a civil society, so the problem will not be confined to the communities in which the practice is prevalent. It will affect us all.

The Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Association of Radiologists have called for policy changes regarding early revelation of the fetus’s sex, but it is doubtful any such policy would stop determined parents from gaining that knowledge, if necessary on a black market that no government can control.

There are two major challenges in dealing with the problem. Both are cultural, and in both cases the impetus to change must come from within. First, the cultural communities in which the numbers are alarming must acknowledge and “own” the underlying misogyny that is fuelling the problem. Attitudes to women must Canadianize.

And feminists must change their ideological “culture,” according to which any criticism of non-white cultural groups is deemed to be racist. Amongst the women aborting their female fetuses there are a number, perhaps a significant number, who are not having abortions by choice, but under duress. Abortion on demand for any reason may have seemed logical as a feminist principle in 1970, but it simply isn’t any more. Ignoring the inherent conflict sex selection abortion represents is cowardly and ethically reprehensible.

Cultural community leaders and feminists must step up to the plate and make the adoption of Canadian gender principles their common cause.

National Post