01/16/2012 01:38 EST

Selective Abortions Prompt Call For Later Ultrasounds


A fetus's gender should not be revealed until after 30 weeks of pregnancy, says an editorial published in the Canadian Medical Journal.

This change in procedure for a fetal ultrasound -- where the sex is usually disclosed to parents at 20 weeks -- would help prevent female feticide, says Rajendar Kale, editor in chief of the CMAJ.

In Canada, doctors rarely perform abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy unless the baby has a lethal fetal abnormality or the mother's life is in danger due to the pregnancy.

Kale says that in countries such as India, China, Korea and Vietnam, female fetuses are commonly aborted because of a preference for sons. Though by no means widespread, the practice is carried out by some immigrants to Canada, Kale says.

His editorial cites a small U.S. study that found 40 per cent of 65 immigrant Indian women surveyed had terminated earlier pregnancies and 89 per cent terminated their current pregnancies when they discovered they were having girls. Previous Canadian research has suggested that sex selection is occurring in Canada in certain groups when families have had girls and are seeking a son. The practice has created a gender imbalance in these communities.

"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," writes Kale. "The solution is to postpone the disclosure of medically irrelevant information to women until after about 30 weeks of pregnancy."

Obstetricians group disagrees

Kale wants to see gender disclosure policies at 30 weeks adopted by the provincial colleges that govern doctors. "Such clear direction from regulatory bodies would be the most important step toward curbing female feticide in Canada."

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada said Kale' s proposal is inconsistent with their policy, which states that "a patient's request for disclosure should be respected, either directly or in a report to the referring health professional."

In an email to CBC News, the obstetricians group said it believes it is the right of the patient to be informed of the gender of the fetus, and that this information should not be withheld.

The editorial also did not consider tests on the market that give expectant parents a fetal sex determination of high accuracy as early as eight weeks into a pregnancy, the group noted.

"The SOGC in no way condones pregnancy termination based on non-medical reasons, such as the gender of the fetus. 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."