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July 2006

Canadian sex-selection abortions exposed

Theresa Smyth
Family and Society Reporter

The Canadian disgrace of sex-selection abortion is receiving less attention than pollution, though both may cause skewed boy-girl ratios in particular communities and both are matters of public health and justice. The normal birth ratio is 105 males to 100 females and large deviations are cause for concern.

In the first grave case, the mainstream media and scientific literature have explored the possible reason for the disproportionate births of girls at the Aamjiwnaang reserve near Sarnia, which is near chemical manufacturing plants. Among other health concerns, nearly twice as many girls as boys are now being born there. It is believed that compounds in the natives’ environment are endocrine disruptors, which lead to a decline in male births. Although similar findings have occurred in Italy and Sweden, the research has not been conclusive. Nevertheless, calls for intervention are organized and growing, in affiliation with environmental activists. The federal environment minister has been called on to better regulate toxic chemicals and investigations continue to explore causes and effects.

In the second grave case, no such investigation is yet underway. On June 5, 2006, the Western Standard brought to the fore the issue of sex-selection abortion in Canada.

It is well known that certain Asian cultures have alarming distortions in birth sex ratios. In Indian culture, girls are seen as an economic burden because of dowry payments. Yet, wealthier Indian women, who are better-educated, are twice as likely to abort as their poorer counterparts. India’s national sex ratio is 109 males to every 100 females, but there are large regional variations. The Punjab’s ratio is 126 males to every 100 females. It is estimated that up to 500,000 unborn Indian girls are lost to abortion every year, for a total of perhaps 10 million missing females. Research has demonstrated that the proportion of subsequent female births to Indian families decline after each daughter.

China’s one-child policy has exacerbated a cultural preference for boys, who are considered to carry on the ancestral line and counted on to look after their aging parents. China’s national sex ratio is 125 males to every 100 females. Again, the ratios are more skewed in wealthier provinces: 130.30 boys for every 100 girls born in Guangdong and 135.64 boys in Hainan to every 100 girls born.

The Western Standard has demonstrated that certain communities in British Columbia and Ontario, with large proportions of immigrants from India and China, are experiencing the same unusual sex ratios seen in those Asian countries.

For instance, Chinese immigrants comprise 12 per cent of the population of Coquitlam, B.C. In 2000, 116 boys were born there for every 100 girls. In areas of Brampton, Ont. with large numbers of Indian immigrants, 109 boys were born in 2001 for every 100 girls.

This country has likely lost thousands of girls to sex-selection abortion, but hard data is difficult to compile. Alternative explanations, such as increased viral infection among Indian women, simply do not account for the large variations between communities. Anecdotal and statistical evidence shows that sex-selection abortion is the best explanation for the distortion.

The Western Standard attempted to obtain precise information, but was reduced to making extrapolations from census data, because governments will not disclose birth information related to sex-selection abortion. Public access to abortion data is legally restricted by a 2001 law in British Columbia, and that province responded to an access to information request with uncertainty that the statistics could be made available. Ontario responded that the gender and birth order of siblings is simply not collected. Such concealment has served to mute the potential outrage of the Canadian public, which – according to a 1993 report of the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies – opposes sex-selection abortion by 90 per cent.

Government efforts to regulate sex-selection are futile when abortion is available on demand, because a woman can have an ultrasound in a different facility from where the abortion is committed. Still, China and India have at least acknowledged the problem.

India outlawed sex-determination ultrasounds and sex-selection abortion in 1994. In March of this year, the first convictions occurred and a doctor and medical assistant in India were jailed for agreeing to abort a female fetus. Some Punjabi districts are giving cash incentives to families that only have two girls.

China outlawed sex-determination ultrasounds in 1994 and 2002, then criminalized sex-selection abortion in 2005. But the one-child policy implemented in 1979 has exacerbated the cultural problem. The government has now started to pay cash bonuses to the parents of girls.

Women, it is thought, moderate male aggression and a future with large numbers of frustrated single men is considered dangerous. Increases are predicted in prostitution, human trafficking and other crime. Analysts speculate that India and China will grow their armies to provide an outlet for male aggression. The governments are anxious to even out the gender balance for the national good.

Canada is far behind these two countries in that we have no official recognition of the problem. In a letter to provincial ministers of health, REAL Women of Canada has written, “The loss of females by way of sex-selection abortion is very disturbing, since it devalues all women and their contributions to society in the past, in the present and in the future. In addition, any such demographic disproportion will lead inevitably to social instability caused by a surplus of unmarried heterosexual males in intense competition for females.”

REAL Women is calling on the provinces to take two actions. First, says national vice-president Gwen Landolt, “We certainly want the ministers of health to take a good look at this and analyze the statistics and determine if (sex-selection abortion) is occurring.” Secondly, if investigation does confirm that finding, the group is calling for the prohibition of sex-determination ultrasound in each province.”

For the time being, Canadian abortion providers and defenders continue to maintain that abortion is justified for any reason. To say that sex-selection abortion is morally wrong is to question the orthodoxy of abortion rights.

The irony of the pro-choice logic is that prospective future feminists are being killed in the womb. As Catholic Civil Rights League executive director Joanne McGarry told the Western Standard, “The National Action Committee on the Status of Women must have a heck of a time with this one. All that successful lobbying on the slogan, ‘The issue is choice,’ only to discover that for some, the choice is to eliminate the girls.”

John Hof, president of Campaign Life Coalition B.C., is alarmed at the situation currently tolerated in his province. He calls sex-selection abortion “misogyny in its most extreme form - the most vulnerable of women are being targeted.”

Judy Sgro (Liberal, York West), is the pro-abortion chair of Parliament’s standing committee on the status of women. Asked by The Interim whether the targeting of girl fetuses, and the harms to those women who do not bear sons, represent hate crime against females, Sgro declined to answer directly. She merely acknowledged that sex-selection abortion “certainly is a complex issue.”

Readers wishing to request study of this subject by the standing committee on the status of women, are invited to contact the clerk of the committee at fewo@parl.gc.ca.




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