“It was the worse scan in my 15 years in the profession,” she told me.
“My patient came in recently for a routine 20-week obstetric foetal wellbeing scan. She asked the gender of the baby. In the room were family members.
“I said the baby looked healthy and most likely a girl. The grandmother spoke aggressively in another language and left the room slamming the door, followed by the uncle and a little boy.
“The mother was crying hysterically. You would have thought I had just told her that her baby had died.
“I thought the little boy was theirs and that they would be happy for a girl. But the father, who was older, told me his firstborn was also a girl – the boy was his nephew.
“I have no doubt about the intentions of the father. The mother may have wanted to keep that child but there was little doubt in my mind she would be aborted.”
Jane went home and cried. She spent days agonising, even wondering if she should leave her profession.
As a result of gender requests, which she believes can lead to abortion, she is increasingly reluctant to reveal a child’s sex. Many colleagues feel the same, not wanting to be complicit.
“Things have changed,” she says. “This used to be a joyful job, showing pretty pictures to couples happy with the baby. Now there is more insistence on revealing the sex early and you fear what they will do with the information.”
She knows many cases where the initial predictions have been found wrong with later screening.
“It’s not a diagnosis, more a prediction. There are conditions that can mask the sex, such as un-descended testes. I’m sure babies are being terminated based on wrong information.”
Jane’s account follows a Sunday Herald Sun report that a baby girl was aborted in Melbourne at 19 weeks because her parents wanted a son. Melbourne doctor Mark Hobart refused to refer them for a termination. It has since emerged that Dr Hobart is pro-life. This does not change the nature of the request. Many doctors who have no issue with abortion would baulk.
“The parents were upfront and told me that was the reason for the abortion,” Dr Hobart said. “I just couldn’t believe it. It was the husband who did all the talking – he was so insistent.”
A spokesman for Federal Health Minister, Tania Plibersek, reduced this act of discrimination to a “clinical matter”. Australia is a signatory to the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, agreeing to do all it can to achieve its objectives, including those on gender equality, equity and empowerment of women.
For example, governments are urged to take the necessary measures to prevent infanticide, ante-natal sex selection and trafficking in girl children. What’s the point of signing if a baby girl can be eliminated because her parents wanted a son?
Ms Plibersek would, I’m sure, oppose female foeticide and infanticide, which results in about 200 million fewer girls in the world a year according to the UN.
In her recent book, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, Mara Hvistendahl writes: “They were selected out of existence.”
It appears easier to condemn sex bias practices when they happen far away, but not at home.
The Medical Board said it would not pursue the case because terminations are allowed up to 24 weeks. Including for being female.
The governing body of our medical profession has simply wiped its hands of a harmful discriminatory practice condemned around the world. And if the mother was under pressure not to give birth to a girl, she also is a victim.
While no one knows the extent of the practice in Australia – surely one case is too many – and while not all cases will be driven culturally or apply only to girls, perhaps Jane’s story will help others in the field come forward with their experiences.
Rather than provide and underwrite sex-selective abortion, we should be signalling strong opposition to ante-natal sex selection as part of our broader goals to eliminate gender inequality and bias.
The Medical Board should investigate. Eliminating babies of the “wrong” sex is not about health, therapy or healing. It is about reinforcing prejudice. And it can never be seen as just a clinical matter.