Friday, February 10, 2012

F.I. v F.I.: What to do when Feminist Issues Conflict?

Every once in a while, I read something that makes me doubt what I thought I knew to be right. The recent editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal “‘It’s a girl!’ – could be a death sentence” written by CMAJ’s then interim Editor-in-Chief Dr. Rajendra Kale is such an article.

According to this editorial, female feticide happens in North America and the male-to-female ratio in some ethnic groups is distorted to a point unexplainable by nature. Dr. Kale supports a simple solution to prevent the selective abortion of female fetuses: postponing the disclosure of the sex of the fetus until after about 30 weeks of pregnancy – a time at which it is very difficult to obtain an abortion – unless this information is medically relevant (e.g. to manage a sex-linked illness).

I thought this seemed wholly reasonable. It also seemed to me to be consistent with the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, which states that “no person shall knowingly, for the purpose of creating a human being, perform any procedure or provide, prescribe or administer any thing that would ensure or increase the probability that an embryo will be of a particular sex, or that would identify the sex of an in vitro embryo, except to prevent, diagnose or treat a sex-linked disorder or disease” (AHRA s. 5(1)(e)).

Kale states that “[p]ostponing the transmission of such information is a small price to pay to save thousands of girls in Canada.” I agree. Buying baby clothes in the “gender appropriate” colour, for example, doesn’t seem all that important to me. Interestingly, gender-neutral baby clothes, which gained in popularity beginning in the 1960s, remained popular until the mid-1980s, when pink and blue became colours associated with girls and boys, respectively. According to this article on the Smithsonian website, a big reason for the change was the development of prenatal testing which allowed for the identification of the sex of the fetus.

Here’s where I started to doubt myself: according the National Post Dr. Kale’s proposal has received support from conservative groups but opposition by pro-choice advocates.

I have always been pro-choice. I have always thought that it was the woman’s decision alone to determine whether to end her pregnancy, and her reasons for doing so were nobody’s business. All of a sudden, I’m faced with a fact situation that makes me want to limit the information available to women that they might wish to consider when deciding whether to have an abortion.

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada responded to Dr. Kale’s editorial, stating, “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.”
It’s true that the ideal solution would be to effect social change so that there was never any preference for one sex over the other. But that would be a very slow process at best. Don’t we need to do something in the interim?

I have some reconciling to do...

Madelaine Saginur is the Executive Director of the Centre for Law, Technology and Society at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law.
Designed by Rachel Gold.