Lord, send pesticide for the weed of 'gendercide'

Colby Cosh on Mark Warawa's sex-selective abortion debate

Sean Kilpatrick/CP

All righty. Since Mark Warawa has finally kicked off that grand national conversation about sex-selective abortion we needed so badly, I’ll start by asking a question: exactly which sex-selective abortions should we outlaw? I think we know how Warawa would answer, given his druthers: “All of them, along with all the other abortions.” It is odd, though, how many of the people who are eager for a “conversation” have failed to supply their own answer. We hear that there must be some law—the truly civilized places, the superior polities, all have one!—but no one ever explains with any precision what that law should capture. Let’s imagine some possible cases:

1. An East Indian woman in a traditionalist marriage is found to be carrying a female fetus, and wants to abort it owing to her preference for having a boy.

2. A Toronto feminist in a radical same-sex life arrangement is found to be carrying a male fetus, and wants to abort it owing to her preference for a male-free household.

3. A mother of three boys is found to be carrying a fourth male fetus, and opts for an abortion and an attempt at a fifth pregnancy with a different outcome in the hope of “balancing” her family.

4. A mother who knows she is a carrier of red-green colour blindness, generally an X-chromosome-linked genetic defect, prefers to carry only girls to term because she selfishly prefers to have a more perfect child.

5. A mother who knows she is a carrier of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, always an X-chromosome-linked genetic defect, prefers to carry only girls to term because she selfishly prefers to have a more perfect child.

6. A mother, living in the imminent near future in which fetuses can be gene-sequenced almost immediately after implantation, who has no actual preference concerning the sex of her child, but makes an a priori decision to abort any fetus that displays some level—perhaps trivial, perhaps only the most staggeringly serious—of known genetic defect. The result, since God has arranged matters such that recessive X-chromosome-linked defects affecting only boys vastly outnumber any other kind, is a set of abortions that are collectively and strongly “sex-selective” in favour of girls, even though the mothers are indifferent.

Case 6 is a toughie, ain’t it? Of those people who believe parents have a right to exercise some degree of reproductive choice, and they’re the overwhelming majority, few would deny that a mother has a right to say “No” at some point when faced with the prospect of delivering and raising a terribly afflicted child. We have created a world in which abortion is available to women who want to finish their university degree before they have a kid, to women who spent one night with Mr. Wrong, or to women who just prefer the inconvenience of an abortion to the agony and terror of parturition. Can we respect those choices (as we ought to) yet not respect the choice of a woman who doesn’t want to risk spending the next 20 years of her life raising one of Jerry’s Kids?

Well, you might have noticed that Jerry’s Kids were all boys. The effect of mommy’s policy of personal eugenics, of almost any exercise of eugenic choice, will be to alter the sex ratio of the human race just that wee bit. And, news flash: we are already in a world in which fertilized embryos can be screened for whatever known genetic traits you like, including sex, and selected for implantation on that basis. So to Cases 1-6 above, you can actually add Cases 1A through 6A not involving abortion at all. The evil of preimplantation gene screening, consciously sexist or not, is just as great as that of abortion if your main ethical interest is in having the “right” 106 boys born for every 100 girls.

Increasingly pro-lifers pretend to be interested in that sex ratio, which is easier than the uphill pursuit of the old policy of condemning abortion as disgusting to God. This is the game Mark Warawa is playing: you need only check his resounding words in the House yesterday, none of which were “abortion”.

Female gendercide is the systematic killing of women and girls just because they are girls. The UN says that over 200 million girls are missing in the world right now because of female gendercide. The Canadian Medical Association revealed that this barbaric form of discrimination is occurring in Canada. The statement “It’s a girl” should not be a death sentence. Gendercide is the ultimate form of discrimination against women and girls.

“Two hundred million missing girls”, some of whom were never born. Some, in fact, may never have been conceived. Think about this fun neologism “gendercide”: it treats the murder of a teenaged daughter and the abortion of a female fetus, though not a male one, as ethically equal offences—the same statistical crime, the slight widening of a tragic gap in the species. Assuming that Warawa doesn’t think “It’s a boy” should ever be a “death sentence”, he presumably includes pro-female embryo selection under the heading of “gendercide”—and, again, if it has a differential effect, if it condemns more potential beings of one sex than the other, it is “gendercide” whether sex selection was intended or not.

Here, then, is my contribution to the big conversation.

(1) “Gendercide” is incoherent religious militancy in cheap drag. (Editors certainly shouldn’t be taking sides by putting it in headlines as if it were an actual thing.)

(2) However you feel about personal eugenics, which is an accurate name for “mothers choosing babies that are likely to be better in some respect they deem relevant”, the Era Of It is arriving now and will not be wished away.

(3) Sex-selective abortion perpetrated for reasons of religious superstition is, upon all evidence, a marginal phenomenon in this country, probably a fading one, and quite likely to be an inherently self-correcting one. It makes a shabby excuse for blowing up the political truce our country clings to when it comes to the topic of abortion. (It seems remotely possible that Stephen Harper has perceived this and concurs with it.)

(4) In particular, no statute is likely to be effective against sex selection by mothers. We had one, you know, and it actually made a hypothetical exception for parents at risk of X-linked gene disease. A Liberal government devoted to “reproductive choice” criminalized sex-selective embryo implantation by means of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act; a Supreme Court found that law offensive to the Constitution; and a Conservative government closed the agency that was supposed to enforce it because it had accomplished the sum total of jack squat ever.

(5) People who wish to police sex-selective abortion had better figure out what exactly kinds they don’t like. And why. And what other reasons for a woman to have an abortion don’t cut their brand of mustard. And whether they really want their wives, girlfriends, daughters or nieces to end up as a future Case 6 running afoul of the law.

(6) Fellow-travellers of Mark Warawa who think he makes an awesome test case for parliamentary purity should consider looking for one that, pardon the metaphor, doesn’t have quite so many oopsies in its DNA.

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