The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada is calling for a complete ban on so-called “entertainment” ultrasounds.
Dr. Michiel Van den Hof, who is a spokesman for the society and who is also a professor of fetal and maternal medicine in Halifax, says, “I would suggest a complete ban. That’s going to take a government initiative and certainly that’s one I would endorse.”
Van den Hof says his society’s policy is clear, “we do not at all condone sex selection by pregnancy termination. And we oppose it vehemently.”
The reaction comes after a hidden-camera investigation by CBC’s I-Unit that showed a number of “entertainment” ultrasound businesses were willing to reveal the sex of a fetus in the early stages of pregnancy when an abortion is more available.
The investigation followed two recent studies that suggest the practice of aborting females in favour of males, common in countries such as India and China, is happening here in Canada.
CBC took a hidden camera inside 22 private ultrasound centres around the country and nearly two out of three were willing to do an early gender test.
Medical clinics will not give the sex of a fetus until after 20 weeks of pregnancy but the CBC found private businesses willing to do so much earlier.
Aruna Papp, who is a counsellor to South Asian women in Toronto, says the pressure to produce a boy can be “just as severe” here in Canada as it is in India.
She isn’t sure that a ban on early ultrasounds would work. “The women will travel to wherever the clinics are,” she said. Papp is encouraging her community to confront the issue through education.
There are currently no rules in Canada about when the gender of a fetus can be revealed and there are no laws against aborting a fetus because of its sex.
Political parties weigh in
The CBC contacted the five political parties and asked them to comment on the legality of sex selective abortions in Canada and the regulation of entertainment ultrasound businesses.
The office for the minister responsible for the status of women, Rona Ambrose, told the CBC that the practice is "very troubling." She said the solution is education: "I think we need to work closely with women's groups who are speaking out about this issue in certain cultural communities, and ensure that people understand that girls and boys are equal under the law, that they are valuable and that in this society, we don't tolerate discrimination against girls and women."
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq told the CBC that "we totally condemn that ... it is unacceptable."
NDP MP and health critic Libby Davies and MP Niki Ashton, the NDP's status of women critic, said in a statement that sex selective abortion reflects the deep inequalities between men and women and “it has no place in our society.” They are calling for “education and support in order to combat that inequality.”
The Liberal Party responded that the "guidelines for appropriate use of ultrasound were set by Health Canada in 2001, which make clear that ultrasound should not be used for non-medical or commercial purposes."
The Green Party’s Elizabeth May said her party hopes that “public education and awareness will bring an end to gender discriminatory abortions, and eventually, unnecessary ultrasounds.”
The Bloc declined comment.
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