Dr. Rajendra Kale editorialized in favour of withholding information about the sex of unborn babies to curb sex-selective abortions in Canada.

An editorial in the Jan. 16 Canadian Medical Association Journal written by Dr. Rajendra Kale, the interim editor-in-chief, advocates for measures to curb sex-selective abortion of girls. “Female feticide happens in India and China by the millions, but it also happens in North America in numbers large enough to distort the male to female ratio in some ethnic groups,” he wrote in what would become a controversial medical journal editorial. “Small numbers cannot be ignored when the issue is about discrimination against women in its most extreme form. This evil devalues women.” He suggests that doctors only report the gender of the unborn child at 30 weeks pregnancy.

His editorial – entitled “It’s a girl – could be a death sentence” – mentions that the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia (CPSBC), Ontario (CPSO), and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) have issued recommendations about sex-selective abortions, though they “do little more than provide lip service to tackling female feticide.” The CPSBC’s Resource Manual states that aborting children because of their gender is “socially repugnant.” In British Columbia, doctors may not reveal the sex of a child 20 weeks old or younger unless the parent pays $50. A CPSO policy statement dictates that “it is inappropriate and contrary to good medical practice to use ultrasound… to determine the gender of the fetus.” The SOGC, though, says in its policy statement that the sex of the child should be disclosed to respect the “woman’s rightful autonomy over personal health information.”

According to the Globe and Mail, Kale draws upon unpublished research by economists based in Canada and the U.S. that found that Canadians of Indian descent who already had two girls were two times more likely to have a boy as the third child. This was also true for Sikhs, non-Christians, and non-Muslims from Asia. Furthermore, Kale cites a small study that shows 89 per cent of female Indian immigrants to the U.S. who were pregnant with girls at the time aborted them.

According to the 2011 census of India, there were 914 girls under 6 years old for every 1,000 boys. China reported in its 2010 census that there were 118 boys for every 100 girls. Last June, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada published a report discussing “gendercide” in Canada and Asia. The issue was also highlighted in Mara Hvistendahl’s 2011 book Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men (reviewed in the August 2011 Interim).

In a column for the Globe, André Picard said that following Kale’s recommendation to withhold the gender of the child from the parents until 30 weeks would be “unethical” and lead to “unsafe” abortions. “The last thing we need is to have women who are making an already-difficult choice, to be grilled about why they are having an abortion.”

Natalie Hudson Sonnen, the executive director of LifeCanada, wrote in the NationalPost.com that a 2011 Environics Poll found 92 per cent of Canadians thought sex-selective abortions should be illegal. “In this instance, the media actually reflects the sentiments of the general public … yet only a very few have had the nerve to address the gigantic elephant in the room. It’s the highest form of hypocrisy that we should condemn one form of abortion, while failing to address them all,” she comments.

In another online column for the National Post Moira McQueen, executive director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, asked, “if ‘choice’ is still one of the most important feminist values, how do the same feminists deal with this question of sex-selection?” Tellingly, feminist groups had no statement to make about the CMAJ editorial.