Bill C-233 (the Sex Selective Abortion Act) debated in the House of Commons

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submitted by We Need A Law, Ottawa

Bill C-233, is a private member’s bill which would implement an Act to amend the Criminal Code to make it an offence for a medical practitioner to perform an abortion knowing that the abortion is sought solely on the grounds of the child’s genetic sex. It also requires the Minister of Health, after consultation with representatives of the provincial governments responsible for health, to establish guidelines respecting information provided by a medical practitioner in relation to a request for an abortion.

“The MPs who spoke clearly understood what Bill C-233 is seeking to achieve, but there was a disconnect between the content of the bill and the focus of the speeches,” said Tabitha Ewert, Legal Counsel for We Need a Law. “All condemned the practice of sex selective abortion, but they used their time to speak about other abortion related issues rather than dealing with this inherently sexist practice.”

“This bill asks our leaders to recognize that there is at least one reason that abortion is wrong, and to take a stand that says no one should be aborted based on their sex,” continued Ewert. “In Canada, we strive for equality of the sexes, yet we allow abortion to be used for sex selection. We know that girls are disproportionately targeted for sex selective abortions. Now is the time for our lawmakers to take a stand against sexism by supporting Bill C-233.”

MP Cathay Wagantall, the sponsor of Bill C-233, focused on the fact that her bill is very specific in its aim to target the discrimination inherent in sex selective abortion. She spoke about the need to value men and women equally, and the fact that sex selection is already illegal for in vitro fertilization where sex cannot be a factor in choosing which embryo to implant. Wagantall cited poll results showing that more than 80% of Canadians oppose sex selective abortion. She shared evidence from the Canadian Medical Association Journal indicating that sex selective abortion happens in Canada, and that doctors have tried to find ways to discourage it. Doctors need a tool that allows them to refuse to perform sex selective abortions, and Bill C-233 provides that.

Those who spoke to the bill have so far failed to address the focus of Wagantall’s bill – the sex-based discrimination inherent in sex selective abortion. “Canada has no abortion law,” said Ewert, “and sex selective abortion is a clear example of why law matters. If we had a law against sex selective abortion, it would send a message that we as a society really do value girls and boys equally from the earliest stages of life. While we still wouldn’t ask women why they were choosing an abortion, doctors could communicate to them that choosing abortion based on sex is illegal, making it clear that baby girls are no less valuable than baby boys.”

“In this second hour of debate, we will be looking for signs that lawmakers are taking the issue of sexism seriously. The time for words is past, we need to see action that addresses this inequality. We hope to see a growing number of MPs speak favourably to Bill C-233 and show the necessary courage required to correct the injustice of sex selective abortion.”

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