Along with concerns around late-term abortion, the general public are greatly concerned by the issue of sex-selection abortion. While the NSW Legislative Assembly rejected an amendment to ban sex-selection abortions, they included in their draft Bill, a statement of disapproval of the practise.
Many abortion advocates are strenuously denying that sex-selection abortion occurs in Australia, yet there is both anecdotal and research evidence that it does. Phillip Goldstone, Director of Marie Stopes, one of Australian’s largest abortion providers, in his submission to the Inquiring Committee, says:
We do not support the inclusion of gender selection in the Bill and we strongly caution against amendments to the legislation as the issue of gender selection and termination of pregnancy is not grounded in evidence.
This is in line with other abortion advocates who deny the practise occurs, however, he goes on to say,
Further public debate or amendments on this issue has the potential to discriminate against multicultural and diverse communities in Australia and would unfairly target people who already face barriers in accessing abortion care.
The only inference that can be made from this statement is that Goldstone believes that the right to carry out a cultural practise of preferentially aborting girl babies holds higher value than that which the public espouses; that to discriminately target girls in the womb is an abhorrent practise. There is a huge arrogance in the statement that the public has no right to be part of a debate on such an important and valued issue.
A La Trobe University study found that ‘systematic discrimination against females starts in the womb’. Within some Victorian migrant communities, boys were born at the rate of 122 and 125 for every 100 girls born. This unnaturally and highly significantly birth rate difference defies the standard of 105 boys for 100 girls.
One of the researchers, Dr Edvardsson says it is clear that there is a gender bias in these communities and that in spite of bans that prevent people choosing the sex of their child, such gender bias remains persistent and acted on.
Of course in Victoria, as proposed in New South Wales, there is no requirement for women to give any reason for abortion so it is impossible to know whether a woman is seeking termination because she knows the gender or for some other reason. Even when it is known and reported, there is huge professional risk in doing so, as discovered by one Melbourne GP who reported such a sex-selection abortion, and was subsequently put under review himself. There is a powerful process of silencing and discrediting what occurs in order to keep such practises in the shadows, regardless of legality.
It should be of huge concern to everyone that even when a practise is banned, it is still performed by providers who are typified by Goldstone, who believes the public should have no say about what they do. We have to ask whether abortion providers can be trusted to comply with such a law when they are clearly performing abortions for this reason.
If the NSW government is concerned about public opinion on this issue, they have no option but to ban sex-selection abortion. However, this means creating legislation that will enable independent monitoring and reporting of the reasons women seek abortion and serious penalties imposed on those who believe they are both above the law and above public opinion.
Debbie Garratt is Executive Director of Real Choices Australia and an educator and researcher, whose PhD research is on abortion discourse in Australia.