Abortion concerns lead doctors to withhold baby’s gender

Hospitals reconsidering their procedures out of fears that prospective parents will abort their fetus if it is the ‘wrong’ sex

For most expectant parents, next to knowing that their baby-to-be is normal and healthy, the biggest question they have is: is it a boy or a girl?


But according to Jyllands-Posten newspaper, some chief physicians in Denmark are now saying that parents should not be given that information while the expectant mother can still legally get an abortion. Withholding the gender, they argue, will cut down on abortions by parents who want a specific sex. 


Jyllands-Posten reports that Horsens Hospital recently decided to stop revealing the sex of foetuses at the 12-week scan. 


"We've become more restrictive, because there is an ethical issue if parents are rejecting a child on the basis of gender," Gitte Dupont, a chief physician at Horsens Hospital, told the newspaper. "We sometimes experience that it is very vital to the parents that the child has a specific sex."


Dupont said, however, that she was not personally aware of parents choosing to abort because they were disappointed with the gender of the foetus. 


Odense University Hospital has also chosen to not reveal the sex of a foetus early on in a pregnancy. 


"From our colleagues in India, we know that it is not unusual to choose an abortion because of gender. It could be that some could have the same idea here in Denmark," chief physician Bjarne Rønde Christensen told Jyllands-Posten. 


The cut-off for legal abortions in Denmark is 12 weeks, although an abortion can also be granted past that time for reasons including a risk of birth defects, health risks to the mother or the mother's socioeconomic situation. 


Across the Øresund in Sweden, however, women can have legal abortions through the 18th week of pregnancy. There has already been a documented trend of "abortion tourism" in which women who are unsatisfied with the sex of their unborn child opt for late abortions in Sweden.


The patients' advocates group Danske Patienter criticised the change in policy at some Danish hospitals.


"Doctors aren't hired to be defenders of morality," the organisation's chairman, Lars Engberg, told Jyllands-Posten.


According to Janne Rothmar Hermann, an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen who focuses on legal regulations of health care, said that doctors cannot withhold the foetus's gender.


"If it is possible to determine the gender, and the parents want to know it, then the doctor has an obligation to tell them," Hermann told Jyllands-Posten.


The gender of a baby is most typically revealed at a 20-week-scan, but the sex of a foetus can be determined as early as eleven weeks.