Sex selection abortion happens in Canada. It impacts both boys and girls as families seek to create exactly the type of family they envisioned, but it disproportionately impacts girls. These stories are based on true stories, showing the very real decisions made based on sex preference, allowed by our complete lack of abortion law. We need a law.
Story #1: More than we bargained for
Catherine showed Andrew the pregnancy test. There was a glow in her cheeks that showed only a fraction of the joy that was coursing through her. After being together for ten years, countless doctors appointments, various medications, and still being disappointed every month, Catherine and Andrew had finally decided to try IVF. The doctor had explained the process in a friendly but serious manner, going over the success rates.
“We will transfer three embryos into your uterus,” he had explained. “That way we improve the likelihood that at least one will implant itself there.” Catherine nodded, determined. She wanted a child.
The joy Andrew felt was only surpassed by his relief. Relief that it had succeeded. Catherine’s joy was all encompassing. Even that first day she began to speak to her child, despite knowing that the child couldn’t hear yet. This child was going to complete their family, going to complete her life. Nothing could lessen her joy.
The unabated joy, however, was sidelined by shock as Catherine lay on the table staring at the ultrasound screen. As she looked at her child, a mixture of emotions that she couldn’t even begin to describe took hold of heart. It was not just her child that she saw, it was her children. Three children to be precise. Every single one of the embryos had successfully implanted in her uterus. She looked over at Andrew, but he just stared at the screen.
When the doctor began to talk to them the shock had still not worn off. Catherine had wanted a child, but triplets? How could she possibly manage that?
“Each of the fetuses is healthy,” the doctor explained. “Of course, a multi-fetal pregnancy always comes with risks, for both you and the fetuses.” He gestured at Catherine. “We should discuss your options.”
“Options?” asked Andrew.
“Yes. We can, of course, reduce the pregnancy.”
“Reduce the pregnancy?” Andrew asked, uncomprehending.
“Yes, terminate one or two of the fetuses. You can also choose not to do so, in which case we will have to discuss how to monitor the pregnancy. With triplets come an increased risk of serious complications, including preterm labour and premature birth, which can have lasting consequences for the children.”
Andrew suddenly understood what was being implied and he looked at Catherine. “Reducing the pregnancy makes sense to me,” he said. “We aren’t ready for three anyway. It might make sense to keep two – who knows if we will ever get pregnant again, but three is just too much. Don’t you agree?”
Catherine didn’t respond right away. Shock still gripped her. She looked down at her stomach – not that there was anything to see there yet. But there would be soon. Triplets. Three babies. Inside her. And then she would have to give birth to them. And then she would have to care for them for the rest of her life. Fear was slowly replacing the shock.
“If we just reduce the pregnancy,” Andrew was saying, repeating the phrase he had only just learned. “We could see if we can have a boy and a girl. A perfect little family of four.”
Twins I can do, she thought. “Yeah, a boy and a girl would be perfect. What a gift that we can get two children instead of the one we were hoping for. That would be perfect.”
Andrew and Catherine went home to sleep on it, and decided to find out the sex of the babies she carried. Two girls and one boy. They talked, they cried, and then they agreed – a boy and a girl would be perfect. When they returned to the doctor, they were sure.
“Let’s reduce the pregnancy.”
And a girl lost her life because she was a girl.
Story #2: Plenty of girls
Janine was putting together the finishing touches on her middle daughter’s costume. Just that morning, Annaliese had announced that she wanted to go trick-or-treating as an octopus. Despite searching every costume and thrift store in their small town, there was no octopus costume to be found. The look of disappointment on Annaliese’s face grew as they went to store after store, finding a princess dress for Sarah and a Batgirl outfit for Ellie. “What about a turtle?” Janine had asked her 6-year-old. Annaliese hadn’t said anything, but tears filled her eyes. Janine was not one to spoil her three girls, but her hearts strings were pulled. She loved her daughters dearly and wanted them to see the world for all the possibilities it had for women.
“Maybe we can be resourceful.” Janine said. “Let’s see if we can figure out how to make an octopus costume.” Annaliese was enthralled and they spent the rest of the day looking up patterns and finding the material they needed. Janine was proud of her daughter. She had worked hard and carefully all day. All that was left for Janine to do after her daughters were in bed was the finishing touches.
As she looked with satisfaction at the 8-legged costume, she heard the front door open as her husband Spencer arrived home from work. He was up for a promotion that kept him at the office longer these days. The costume was laid aside as another more serious topic took over her mind. Janine was unsure whether the wave of nausea she felt was the morning sickness or the dread of the conversation she intended to have.
Spencer was pulling food out of the fridge when she walked into the kitchen. She sat at the island as he turned to her.
“I found out today that it’s a girl,” Janine said. Spencer didn’t react right away, but Janine knew he must be feeling disappointment. He loved his daughters, she knew, but he had wanted a son. He had wanted someone to play catch with, to take fishing, and to carry on his name. Spencer would never have voiced this, but Janine knew. She knew, because she had wanted that to.
“So, a family of four girls,” he finally said.
“Well,” Janine said. “I was thinking about it. This isn’t a great time to have another child anyway. With you up for the promotion and working so much, maybe it would work better to wait. Three children is already a lot – wouldn’t it be better if we are going to have a fourth that we try again for a boy?”
Spencer pondered this for a moment. “It’s not too late?” he asked.
“I can still have it done at the clinic,” she responded. “And we haven’t told the girls yet so there won’t be any questions from them. The only people who know are our parents and we can just say it was miscarriage.”
Spencer nodded. “Ok. And when the timing’s better, we can try again for a boy.”
And a girl lost her life because she was a girl.
The stories themselves do not always overtly show the misogyny in sex selection – the stories are not all filled with women-hating men coercing their wives into abortions every time they’re pregnant with a girl. Yet, in a country that claims to to value equality of the sexes, evidence has been found that a cultural valuing of males in some communities means girls are overwhelmingly targeted for abortion, especially if the family already has girls. Countries like China and India are dealing with this problem on wide-spread scale, but this is also a Canadian problem.
New assisted reproductive technologies have also made multiple pregnancies more likely, and those who practice these types of medicine look for ways to build a designer family and reduce potential risk. Sadly, “risk” in these case is too often a pre-born child.
If we say that equality of the sexes is important to us as Canadians, we need to back that up with laws that recognize their equal value from the earliest stages. Life is meant to be lived, not controlled. When we focus on designing our families to perfection, we will target those who do not fit our mold, be it based on sex, potential disability, or anything else. If we allow this kind of selection in the womb, that kind of thinking will impact our treatment of born human beings as well. We need a law that bans sex selection abortion, and everything it stands for.