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Sex determination, and the selective abortion of fetuses is widespread in some countries.  In the past, this may have been due to permissive abortion laws, which in some circumstances led to abortion being used for sex selection.  After abortion laws were tightened, technological innovation revolutionized medicine, with prenatal diagnosis being one such area.  This new technology has immense potential to allow parents to avoid genetically oriented problems, but its use has had the effect of making it relatively easy for parents to opt for abortion as a means of sex selection when the parents did not wish to have a child of a particular sex.  This comparative summary provides an analysis of laws on the subject of sex selection and abortion in Australia, Canada, India, and New Zealand

While Australia has banned sex selection throughout the country, the States of Victoria, Western Australia, and South Australia have specifically legislated on it.  The Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council has published guidelines that prohibit sex selection unless it is undertaken to prevent an inheritable genetic disease.  

Canada has not prohibited any types of abortion, by law, since 1988.  While abortion for the specific purpose of sex selection is likewise not prohibited, Canadian physicians typically will not perform an abortion after the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy unless the woman’s health is in serious jeopardy.  Canada does not, however, allow reproductive technology to be used for sex selection of the fetus. 

The laws of India and New Zealand on abortion are closely similar, in that they both provide that causing an abortion is an offense unless it is done to save the life of the woman.  Abortion is allowed when, subject to the prescribed length of the pregnancy, the continuance of the pregnancy may cause grave injury to the woman’s physical or mental health, or there is substantial risk that the child-to-be would be seriously handicapped if the pregnancy were to continue.  

Indian laws do not, under any circumstance, allow sex determination tests to be undertaken with the intent to terminate the life of a fetus developing in the mother’s womb, unless there are other absolute indications for termination of the pregnancy as specified by law.  Any act causing the termination of the pregnancy of a normal fetus would amount to feticide, and in addition to rendering the physician criminally liable, is considered professional misconduct on his part, leading to his penal censure. 

The use of reproductive technology in New Zealand is banned when it is used for sex selection with a view to causing an abortion. 

Full Report (PDF, 142KB)

Prepared by Krishan S. Nehra, Senior Foreign Law Specialist

June 2009

Last Updated: 06/27/2014