National Post

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Tuesday, June 29, 1999

Sex-selection debate has women's groups struggling

Paul McKeague
Southam News

OTTAWA - Many women's groups find themselves caught in a catch-22 situation as the federal government plans a clampdown on the use of sex-selection technologies.

Leaders of organizations that have fought for women's rights are personally distressed by such practices, which can lead to the aborting of unwanted female foetuses by families that place a higher value on males. But some fear attempts to prevent sex-selection will restrict a woman's right to choose.

"This whole thing is very difficult," said Bonnie Johnson, executive director of the Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada. But if a woman who faces beating or desertion by a male partner for not producing a male child decides she must abort a female foetus, "we have to go with the choice of the woman, even though nobody is very happy about it," she added.

Elizabeth Hutchinson, president of the National Council of Women, says the aborting of unwanted female foetuses is obviously of concern to those dedicated to improving the lot of girls and women in society.

But there's a danger that attempting to stop abortions based on gender preference will open the door to other restrictions on abortion after the "long and arduous battle" to win women the right to reproductive choice, she said. "You run into the whole sticky business of are you then going to ban abortion for other reasons."

Ms. Hutchinson says her organization will want to look "very carefully" at the legislation on reproductive technologies, which the government is expected to introduce this fall, to see how it handles the sex-selection issue.

Government documents obtained by Southam News under the Access to Information Act indicate the government plans to take measures to prevent pre-natal testing for sex for non-medical reasons. The documents also show that Health Canada officials have warned Health Minister Allan Rock that some women's groups are opposed to a ban on sex-selection.

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