Article ignites controversy over sex-selection abortions among some immigrants in Canada

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

Call it the unintended consequence of Canada's open abortion policy and increasingly multicultural demographic. Experts are warning the normal male-female balance among baby births is being skewed by some immigrant couples selectively aborting female fetuses.

The latest issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal includes an article on the practice, along with an editorial calling for restrictions on the disclosure of the sex of a fetus.

The Journal article points a finger at first-generation immigrants from south and east Asia.

Recent analyses of census data for areas with large numbers of south and east Asian immigrants reveal unnatural rates of male birth "consistent with what is observed back in Asia," University of British Columbia economics professor Kevin Milligan told the Journal. The data provides strong evidence that immigrants continue to practise sex selection despite improved socio-economic prospects, he said.

The natural ratio of mail-female births is 105 males to every 100 females, a ratio of 1.05, the article said. First births among first-generation south and east Asian immigrants in Canada is about 1.08 but the ratio becomes increasingly skewed where previous births are female.

The sex ratio for third births to Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese immigrants who already had two daughters is 1.39, and for Indians it is 1.90.

Polls indicate Canadians overwhelmingly oppose the practice of sex selection, the Journal said.

But a variety of factors, including the affordability and ease of access for both abortion and sex determination services, as well as Canada's deep-rooted respect for diversity, have enabled sex-selective abortion to "take on a life of its own and persist" in spite of public condemnation, Columbia University professor Lena Edlund told the Journal.

Journal editor-in-chief Rajendra Kale wrote in his editorial that provincial physicians' colleges should adopt a policy that a fetus's sex, determined by ultrasound, should not be revealed until after 30 weeks, when elective abortions are hard to obtain.

"A pregnant woman being told the sex of the fetus at ultrasonography at a time when an unquestioned abortion is possible is the starting point of female feticide from a health-care perspective," Kale wrote.

But the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists told CBC News the idea is inconsistent with its policy that requires the specialists to respect a patient's request for disclosure.

The society said it doesn't condone abortions for non-medical reasons such as sex selection.

"The SOGC feels strongly that it is the cultural values and norms in specific segments of the Canadian population that must change to ensure that females are not confronted with procedures and intolerant environments before or after they are born," the association said.

Dr. Pargat Singh Bhurji, a Surrey, B.C., pediatrician, told CBC couples can go across the border to U.S. clinics that advertise early sex determination in Indian newspapers.

Education that Canadian society values male and female children equally is the best way to reduce the practice in the long term, Bhurji said.