Some women in Manitoba's south Asian community are seeking out private ultrasound clinics to determine the gender of their fetuses, according to one community member.

A CBC News investigation has found that some privately owned 3D ultrasound clinics in Canada agreed to book an appointment that would give the gender of the fetus before 20 weeks of pregnancy — within the range of time when it is still possible for a woman to get an elective abortion.

The investigation follows two studies that suggest the practice of aborting female fetuses in favour of males, common in countries such as India and China, has arrived in Canada.

Sex-selective abortions are being sought out by some women in Manitoba, says Tej Bains of the Punjab Cultural Centre in Winnipeg.

Bains said one friend of hers went to a private ultrasound clinic in the United States during her fourth pregnancy to find out the gender of the fetus.

"If it was a girl, they would have terminated the pregnancy," Bains said.

Higher male-to-female ratio

A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in April confirmed previous research showing that the male-to-female ratio for third-born children to women born in India and living in Ontario is higher than the natural rate.

The studies suggest that women could be using private ultrasound clinics to determine the gender of their fetuses for the purpose of sex-selective abortions.

UC Baby, a nationwide chain of private ultrasound clinics, says its clinics do not reveal fetal gender before 20 weeks of pregnancy, in order to prevent sex-selective abortions.

But staff at the UC Baby clinic in Winnipeg told CBC News they would do an ultrasound at 17 weeks.

Out of the 10 UC Baby clinics across Canada that CBC News tested, only two insisted on revealing fetal gender after 20 weeks.

Officials with UC Baby say they are concerned with the investigation results and will make sure no more women are accepted for ultrasounds before 20 weeks.

Small window of time

Dr. Margaret Morris of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's women's health program says there is a limited amount of time available between the point when a woman learns the gender of a fetus and the point when an elective abortion can still be done.

"It would be very difficult for a woman to find out the sex of the baby, at an 18- to 20-week ultrasound, and be able to prepare an abortion here in Manitoba in a short period of time," she said.

The cutoff point for most abortions in Winnipeg is 20 weeks, Morris said.

Bains said the key issue is a culture that has long favoured boys over girls, but she said the situation is improving.

"Gradually, attitudes are definitely changing," she said.