On February 26, 2020, for the first time in over a decade, a bill was introduced in Parliament that included the word “abortion.” Saskatchewan MP Cathay Wagantall, introduced her private members bill, called the Sex Selective Abortion Act. This bill, which will be debated in the House of Commons later this year, would create a new penalty for doctors who knowingly perform an abortion for the sole reason that the parent(s) are not happy with the sex of the child. This bill is in line with what a vast majority of Canadians believe, that using abortion for the purpose of sex selection is wrong.
Last month, various media outlets reported with apparent surprise the nuanced opinions reflected in a recent poll asking Canadians about abortion. This surprise is understandable given the narrative of polarization we hear from our leaders, but not at all surprising to those of us on the ground in the pro-life movement. In fact, nuance and thoughtfulness are what we’ve come to expect from the majority of Canadians. And sex selective abortion is one area where the poll was crystal clear: 84 percent of Canadians believe it is wrong.
Canada is a country that values equality of the sexes, and sex selective abortion inherently denies the equal value of boys and girls. If a baby girl is unwanted simply because she is a girl, abortion rights have gone too far for most.
This is a cause that unites us. While some oppose abortion and some promote it, we should all be able to stand side by side against sex selective abortion, as we all have an interest in standing against gender inequality. And yet, groups that advocate for abortion have been either dismissive, angry, or quiet. Mara Hvistendahl, author of Unnatural Selection, notes their difficulty: “After decades of fighting for a woman’s right to choose the outcome of her own pregnancy, it is difficult to turn around and point out that women are abusing that right.”
But there is a huge middle group in society that is okay with abortion in some, but not all, circumstances. The polarizing approach has effectively silenced this group, when in fact it is this group that can help make things happen for women and children in Canada, and help our society take a stand that values life and equality. Opposition to sex selection is where we hear a shared voice.
This shared voice claims equal value for men and women, and a shared rejection of the eugenic tendencies behind “designer families” built to ideal specifications. Reproductive technologies have given us unprecedented control over the building of our families. But when they facilitate legal discrimination between the sexes, they have overstepped their bounds. In fact, the Assisted Human Reproduction Act already recognizes the risk of using reproductive technology to engage in sex selection – sex selection of embryos during in vitro fertilization treatments is illegal. It is time for the law to catch up when it comes to abortion.
For most Canadians, abortion is not a black-and-white issue. Science has done its job of proving the humanity of the pre-born child, and even of telling us what sex it is. Now society has to do its job of protecting that child when her sex is used against her.
Despite the majority of Canadians opposing the allowance of abortion for sex selection, our leaders have failed to take a stand against it. To allow abortion based on gender discrimination is to allow a society that accepts this discrimination and values people based on what they do, what they look like, or what they cannot do.
Instead of avoiding the debate or using abortion as a political weapon, we must come together on this issue. It is in the middle ground that abortion restrictions need to begin in Canada. There is clear consensus among Canadians as to where protection for the pre-born should start, and Wagantall’s bill has given our government an opening to recognize this in law, by prohibiting the inequality that is manifested by sex selective abortion. It is time for our politicians to engage in this debate so that public policy becomes more reflective of public opinion.