In Canada, it is legal to get an abortion through all nine months of pregnancy – no questions asked. Women might seek abortions because they don’t feel ready to have a child, because they can’t support one financially, or because they did not intend to get pregnant. Or they might seek an abortion because they’ve found out that their unborn child is a girl.
In India and China, sex-selective abortion is extremely common. In most countries around the world, the ratio of girls to boys is approximately 1:1, but in some areas of India it has dropped to around 700 girls for every 1000 boys born (according to the organization ‘Save Girl Child‘ in India). This may come from a cultural preference for sons, the effects of which are more dramatic in countries with a restriction on the number of children a couple can have. Because of this discrimination in the womb, ten million girls have ‘gone missing’ in India alone over the last twenty years, according to Save Girl Child. This trend is not limited to India and China, though; it happens in our own backyard as well, as reported in a recent editorial in the Candian Medical Association Journal.
It seems inevitable that in a country with no restrictions on abortion, we would eventually run into these sorts of moral quandaries. If the idea of aborting girls en masse to satisfy misogynystic cultural leanings gives our collective consciences a twinge, what about fetuses with disabilities? Studies in the UK show that up to 90% of fetuses diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted. In 2009 alone, “2,085 abortions were [due to the] risk that the child would be born handicapped” in Britain, according to the Department of Health; this includes children with correctible disorders such as cleft palate and club foot. When our culture accepts as normal the act of aborting a child who has physical imperfections, then anyone who is less than perfect should start to feel lucky that they made it out of the womb.
Where do we draw the line? Where does the free exercise of one’s ‘right’ to abortion become outright discrimination against women and the disabled? The idea of freedom of choice is being used to prevent women’s lives from starting; your right to choose is in direct conflict with another girl’s right to life. If sex-selective abortion, and the idea of ending someone’s life just because they have a disability, strikes you as an inexcusable brutality incongruous with our culture of equality, then we have to ask ourselves how we can protect unborn children from this type of discrimination. Then we’re faced with an even bigger question: if unborn children have a right to a discrimination-free chance at life, what other rights might they also have?
– Hanna Barlow
[As seen in the Opinion section of The Ontarion, Feburary 16, 2012.]