Sex Selective Abortion

Photo of Cathy Wagantall from her official website

The Sex Selective Abortion Act- Bill C-233 is currently being debated in Parliament. It was introduced by Conservative MP Cathy Wagantall. She wants to protect female babies from being aborted because of their gender.  If the bill passes doctors would be criminally charged for knowingly performing sex selective abortions. Polling shows most Canadians think sex selective abortion is unethical. I do too. But I don’t support the passage of Bill C-233. Here’s why. 

Bill C-233 would do nothing to curb sex selective abortion.  Women don’t have to tell their doctor why they want an abortion and if this bill passed they would be even more cautious about disclosing the fact their unborn child’s gender influenced their abortion decision. Doctors worried about criminal charges would hesitate to press patients for too much information about their abortion request.

Of course, decades of research has shown that making abortion illegal in a country does not cause a significant drop in the abortion rate. A recent Guttmacher Institute study found abortion rates are actually four times higher in low- income countries where abortion is prohibited than in high income countries where it is legal. If Bill C-233 passed it would do nothing to lower the already declining abortion rate in Canada. 

Secondly, twelve weeks gestation is the earliest the gender of an unborn child can be reliably determined.  90% of abortions in Canada take place before twelve weeks.  Clearly Bill C-233 is narrow and would do little to impact the larger issue Ms. Wagantall would really like to see addressed. 

Thirdly, based on the data I could find, sex selective abortions happen primarily in new immigrant families because people have brought ideas about gender preference to Canada from their home countries.  Rather than wasting time championing ineffective legislation, perhaps we should focus our efforts on better educating expectant parents from immigrant communities about the opportunities available to their unborn daughters in Canada. Research shows sex selective abortions all but disappear in second and third generation immigrant families.

In China sex selective abortion has created a gender imbalance that has resulted in major societal problems. Chinese families think a male child will be able to support them better in their old age and will bring more prestige to the family name. 

Photo I took of a grandmother and her grandson in Tiananmen Square Beijing

Banning sex selective abortions in China has proved ineffective at stopping them, but what has helped is increasing employment opportunities for women. In areas where a concentrated plan of affirmative action and greater pay equity has been implemented in industry and business spheres, sex selective abortions have been substantially reduced. When parents know their female children have an equal opportunity to support them financially and bring recognition to their family they don’t feel the need for sex selective abortions.  

I don’t know if Ms. Wagantall has been a passionate supporter of affirmative action and equal pay for women, but those might be areas where she could more productively focus her energies. We know economic and career concerns are reasons women often have abortions, so let’s do what we can to make sure women have every advantage. 

Even Erin O’Toole the Conservative Party Leader plans to vote against Bill C-233

Finally, I don’t support Bill C-233 because it contradicts the platform of the Conservative Party of which Ms. Wagantall is a member. That makes me wonder if she has proposed the bill primarily for political reasons to bolster the profile of a certain wing of her party. Conservative leader Erin O Toole has assured Canadians his party will not reopen the abortion debate. Yet here is a member of his party doing exactly that. 

It is sad sex selective abortions happen in Canada. There are constructive things we can do to address the problem. Passing Bill C-233 isn’t one of them. 

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Filed under Canada, Health, Politics

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