This week the news broke, again. Female feticide is occurring in Canada.
According to new research released April 11 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the normal birth ratio of about 105 boys for every 100 girls is skewed for Canadian mothers born in India. After having two girls, the ratio at birth for the third child is 138 boys for every 100 girls. It gets worse from there.
In 2006, I broke this news in a piece called "Canada's Lost Daughters." I examined the birth data in communities with high percentages of immigrants from communities where this is culturally acceptable and found skewed ratios.
In 2010, the Economist did a cover story about the world's missing 100 million women. In 2011, Maclean's did the same thing. In 2012 the Toronto Star reported about a new study suggesting that Canadians mothers born in South Korea and India were significantly more likely to have a boy as their second child.
At some point this story ceases to be new. We've just reached the point of accepting this is a problem in Canada.
I have tried to alert Canadian women to the fact that abortion does not serve women's rights, to little avail.
Canada has no criminal laws restricting abortion whatsoever, much to the joy of many who call themselves feminists. Neither would a law necessarily help here. The sex of a child should not be denied to women for whom it is valuable information not just in planning, but also in bonding with their children in utero.
If a law is only a partial answer, this necessitates a discussion about widespread culture change. Culture change is easier said than done. I speak from personal experience: for about eight years I have tried to alert Canadian women to the fact that abortion does not serve women's rights, to little avail.
What can be done in this dialogue of the deaf between activists on both sides? We can find the areas where we agree.
For one, we can all condemn abortion wholesale in certain instances, as in the case of sex-selection abortion.
Next, we can recognize that abortion is not only a private decision, as we are so often told. It is also a public tragedy. Skewed sex ratios show this in clear relief. Ten years ago I interviewed Heather Stilwell, a school trustee in Surrey, British Columbia, who had an interest in encouraging kindergartners to read. She found over time she didn't need to make as many book bags for little girls as little boys. This picture of classrooms in Canada filled with boys is startling -- and public.
As defenders of women's rights, we need to begin to recognize that equality for women has a ways to go precisely because we offer women abortion as an easy solution. We love the idea of empowering women. Yet oddly we preach that young women cannot be fully fledged members of society if they don't function as men do, having sex but never getting or being pregnant.
Finally, in examining and considering the crime against women of sex-selection abortion, we should recognize that our own western cultural blindness partners with India's cultural blindness. Here, Canadian culture that supports abortion-on-demand partners with Indian culture that supports son preference to eliminate women. We cannot point fingers unless they are turned inward.
In the middle of writing this piece, I got an urgent email. A woman with an in-utero diagnosis of trisomy aborted her second trimester child. She is now suicidal. Did I know of anyone who could help?
This is the modern face of abortion that few publicize, though suicide and suicidal ideation are known risks when abortion is chosen for wanted pregnancies. (There's a new documentary coming out called Hush that explains this. It is being pre-screened April 16, 2016.)
Canada loses roughly 280 human beings to abortion every day. Annually, that's like losing the number of people in Waterloo, Ontario.
What bothers us about this number, what bothers us about the post-abortive suicidal woman is basically... nothing at all. We care only that when abortion happens, that females and males die in equal numbers.
It's not Indo-Canadians alone who have a problem. Cultural change is needed in many more communities and homes across Canada. We can start by re-evaluating our own openness to abortion at any time, for any reason.
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REALITY: Over 99.75 percent of abortions do not cause major medical problems. Less than one-quarter of 1 percent of abortions performed in the United States lead to major health complications, according to a 2014 study from the University of California, San Francisco, that tracked 55,000 women for six weeks after their abortions. The researchers note that this makes an abortion statistically about as risky as a colonoscopy. If that fact seems surprising, consider how American pop culture misrepresents the risks of abortion: Nine percent of film and television characters who have abortions die as a direct result of the procedure, according to another 2014 study from UCSF.
REALITY: About one in five abortions are medical abortions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 19 percent of abortions in 2011 were medical abortions and that 28.5 percent of those took place in the first nine weeks of pregnancy. The Guttmacher Institute also found that medical abortions increased substantially from 2008 to 2011, meaning more women have ended their pregnancies with this alternative to surgery.
REALITY: Most women will not regret their decision, and are no more likely to experience mental health problems than women who carry an unplanned pregnancy to term. While many women experience mixed emotions after an abortion, 95 percent of women who have abortions ultimately feel they have made the right decision, according to an August 2013 study from UCSF. "Experiencing negative emotions postabortion is different from believing that abortion was not the right decision," the researchers explained. Furthermore, while unplanned pregnancies often cause emotional stress, there is no evidence to suggest that women who choose to terminate their pregnancies will be more likely to suffer from mental health issues, according to a 2008 report from the American Psychological Association that investigated all relevant medical studies published since 1989. The APA found that past studies claiming abortion causes depression and other mental health problems consistently failed to account for other risk factors, particularly a woman's medical history. The APA accounted for these factors and found that, among women who have an unplanned pregnancy, those who have abortions are no more likely to experience mental health problems than those who carry the pregnancy to term.
REALITY: Fetuses cannot feel pain until at least the 24th week of pregnancy. Experts ranging from Britain’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists agree with that timeline. In fact, research from UCSF found that fetuses can't perceive pain before 29 or 30 weeks of development. Then why have so many states banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy? Perhaps misrepresentation of research is partly to blame: Many of the researchers most frequently cited by pro-life politicians told The New York Times that their research does not prove anything about fetal pain.
REALITY: Most Americans support a woman's right to choose. According to a Gallup poll from 2014, 78 percent of Americans think abortion should be legal in some or all circumstances. (Fifty percent said "some circumstances," while 28 percent said all.) What's more, in 2012, Gallup found that 61 percent of Americans think abortions that take place during the first trimester of pregnancy should be legal. (Nine out of 10 abortions in the U.S. do take place during that time period, according to Guttmacher.)
REALITY: The abortion rate in the United States is the lowest it's been since 1973. The abortion rate has been on the decline for years, and hit its lowest level in 2011, according to the latest data available from the Guttmacher Institute. The study's author partially credited the decline to better contraceptive use and more long-term contraceptive options, such as the IUD.
REALITY: Women face a growing number of barriers to accessing abortions. More than 57 percent of American women live in states that are hostile or extremely hostile to abortion rights, according to the Guttmacher Institute. That represents a marked increase from 2000, when 31 percent of American women lived in such states. In 2011, 89 percent of counties in America had no abortion clinics. This is no accident: Across the U.S., lawmakers have enacted 231 new abortion restrictions over the past four years, according to a Guttmacher analysis from January 2015. As a result, many women have to travel great distances to reach an abortion clinic, where they may face 24-hour wait periods. These barriers particularly affect women living in rural areas and low-income women, who often can't afford to take time off work and pay for gas and a hotel room. Other laws force women to go through potentially distressing procedures, such as viewing their own ultrasound photos, in order to move forward with an abortion.
REALITY: Women rarely cite pressure from family or partners as leading to their decision to abort. A 2005 study from the Guttmacher Institute found that less than 1 percent of women surveyed cited such pressure among their main reasons for having an abortion. A 2013 study from UCSF reached a similar conclusion, and found that while women rarely cited partner coercion as a reason they sought an abortion, many did cite the desire to escape a bad relationship or domestic violence.
REALITY: Most women who have abortions are already mothers. Sixty-one percent of women who had abortions in 2008 were mothers, and 34 percent had two or more children, according to the Guttmacher Institute. That number only increased after the 2009 financial downturn. The National Abortion Federation told Slate that between 2008 and 2011, 72 percent of women seeking abortions were already mothers. A study from Guttmacher found that mothers typically have abortions to protect the children they already have; they simply cannot afford to raise another child.
REALITY: Requiring abortion clinics to meet these standards does little to improve patient safety and forces many to shut down. Currently, 22 states require abortion clinics to meet a set of restrictive and often arbitrary standards, dictating that they be close to hospitals and that their hallways and closets meet certain measurements. Clinics often need to undergo expensive renovations in order to comply, and leading doctors' groups say the laws do little to improve patient safety. What's more, 11 states now require that doctors at abortion clinics obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, but many hospitals flat-out refuse to grant these privileges. As a result, hospitals essentially have the power to shut down nearby clinics.