An open letter to those opposed to bill C-233: The Sex-Selective Abortion Act

Dr. Kiely Williams MD. CCFP - An open letter to those opposed to bill C-233: The Sex-Selective Abortion Act



It is my pleasure to be addressing you today. Let me begin by saying that this letter is written with humility and respect. Despite hearing the opposition voiced against bill C-233 in the House of Commons, I remain hopeful. Bill C-233 has presented us with a unique opportunity in Canadian politics, where all political parties can act together to expand women's rights and save Canadian lives. In my work as a physician and a human rights activist, I have come to realize that those who advocate for human rights have far more in common than what any differences may suggest. On the issue of sex-selective abortion, this becomes abundantly clear.

Despite the opposition voiced by the Bloc Québécois, the NDP and the Liberal Party, each party conceded that they do not support sex-selective abortion. Bill C-233 was criticized because it did not address a myriad of other social issues. One bill could not possibly address every social issue encountered by Canadians. This is not realistic. This bill was also accused of being an attempt to address abortion as a broader topic. Although many detractors claimed to know the heart and mind of the bill’s author, this is also not realistic. All we can evaluate is the bill itself. Bill C-233 only addresses sex-selective abortion.

When listening to the women who simultaneously professed they do not support sex-selective abortion but firmly committed to oppose any legislation prohibiting this practice, I had to consider why. Why do they oppose sex-selective abortion? Why would they oppose legislation prohibiting this practice?

I cannot assume to know the minds of those women. My speculation leads me to believe that they oppose sex-selective abortions for the same reason there is a growing pro-life/anti-abortion movement. This issue is becoming recognized as a human rights issue. What/who we are talking about is not theoretical; these are not blobs of tissue - these are very young girls, and they are being denied the right to life simply because they are girls. When their right to life is denied, all other rights are also denied. It is true that women’s rights were hard won and we are not done. We are not done because not all women have basic rights. When considering the huge amount of public support for this bill among females, it is not reasonable to conclude that women do not want women's rights. Women support this bill because we want human rights for all women; including our smallest sisters.

Once we understand why so many women support this bill, we must ask why anyone would oppose it. The answer appears to be fear. There is a fear that if there are some girls we cannot abort, then this may lead to other scenarios where abortion is considered unacceptable. However, this bill does not impose any other restrictions on abortion. It puts limits solely on aborting girls simply because they are girls. Those opposed to this bill expressed dismay at having to address this topic. They wished it would go away. The uncomfortable fact remains: if we make this issue go away, very young women will pay for it with their lives. We will have been given an opportunity to prevent this and chose not to. Human rights violations will be permitted to continue.

There are two conditions that must be met to perpetuate human rights violations. Firstly, the victims must be largely unseen by society and, secondly, those in power must not identify with the humanity of the victims. Sex-selective abortion meets both criteria.

Although we have evidence published in peer-reviewed Canadian Medical Journals that this is happening in Canada, we continue to have legislators claim this is not a problem and that legislation is not a solution. In 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) released an interagency statement, "Preventing gender-biased sex selection." This document clearly outlined the terrible consequences of sex-selective abortions. It concluded that, "Imbalanced sex ratios are an unacceptable manifestation of gender discrimination against girls and women and a violation of their human rights". This document discussed that legislation in isolation does not solve the problem of imbalanced sex ratios. However, it is misleading to claim that legislation prohibiting sex-selective abortions is ineffective. It is a critical requirement in a multifaceted approach to ensuring equal rights for women and girls. We cannot profess to defend women’s rights while refusing to extend them to all girls. Our current lack of legislation undermines our human rights advocacy domestically and internationally.

One MP in the House claimed that this bill co-opted human rights language. This is not the case. The WHO, the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), UNFPA, UNICEF and UN Women all support the interagency statement that asserts sex-selective abortions are a human rights violation. The statement also calls them "harmful and unethical."

As you consider this bill, I would ask for your honest reflection. I understand you may be afraid but bravery is not the absence of fear; it is doing what is right despite your fears. Every human right we have today is the result of honesty and bravery. These small girls can not advocate for themselves, so we must. In this moment I ask you, with honesty and bravery, to choose unity, life and the defense of the defenseless.

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” - Nelson Mandela

I remain sincerely grateful for your time,

Dr. Kiely Williams MD. CCFP