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what about abortions that target girls?

Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

Thanks, everyone, for your reply to the first abortion question I read everyone’s thoughts and meant to answer a few of them, but I spent pretty much all the time I had to devote to this talking with Carol. (And Carol, sorry to let that conversation fall where it stands – I’ll come back to it in a few days if I have time, but I want to move on to other things.)

That first question was a bit tricky for me. My instinct was that sex isn’t so special that the normal rules don’t apply, and that conversely there aren’t special rules that only apply to abortion and contraception. But that’s where things get very tricky very quickly. If you want me to say what kind of restrictions I think apply, I first need to work out what the purpose of laws are. That’s touching on an area of philosophy I’m increasingly drawn to, but that I’ve only waded in ankle-deep. (I know, I know, most people aren’t nearly this anal about politics and the law. I am.) And I think that’s something I was trying to drive at: that there could be restricitons, but only the kind of things we’d accept in other situations that had nothing to do with women and sex. I still think that’s a good place to start. But as for the specific suggestions I mad about what restrictions, exactly, the law should impose, or the goals laws needed to be aiming for? I’m completely persuadable on those grounds. I don’t think I know enough to argue for specifics, and what little I do know would take too long to go into. :-)

Now I’d like to move on to the nest question:

In 2010, the Economist featured a cover story on “the war on girls” and the growth of “gendercide” in the world – abortion based solely on the sex of the baby. Does this phenomenon pose a problem for you or do you believe in the absolute right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy because the unborn fetus is female?

Of course this is a problem. But it’s not the kind of thing the law should address. That’s crucial.

This is a point I mentioned briefly before, but I didn’t really go into. I said that one purpose of the law was to act as a kind of “training wheels,” to help people develop virtue. (This is one of the things Carol and I were talking about, which she rejects.) But I also made the point that the law should only be relied on as a last resort. Even if you think the law is useful here, there are a lot of limits to it.

This “gendercide” mentioned here is a symptom of a larger problem where women are undervalued for a variety of reasons. It’s a moral problem: either the woman is wrong to not want to keep a daughter, or else there are legitimate practical concerns like poverty and cultural misogyny that need to be addressed so she can properly value her daughter. In either situation, the law isn’t really equipped to handle the problem. I mean, in theory (and I wouldn’t recommend this!) it could keep her from having that abortion. But it’s not going to change her underlying opinions toward her daughter.

There are probably other factors going into these decisions, too. The question assumes that you have an abortion for one reason; that just doesn’t seem true to life in my experience. Would an Indian or a Chinese woman who was rich enough to afford multiple children also abort a daughter? Or are there other concerns? In some situations, I can even see the abortion being logical from a pragmatic position. Quite often, life is much harder for women than men, and a daughter may not be able to earn enough to support the parents in old age. Here, if you want to prevent the abortion you need to fix those situations.

So my gut reaction is: this “gendercide” is clearly wrong, but also clearly not the kind of thing the law should be addressing. Do you agree?

There’s a bigger question lurking behind this one, and I don’t have an answer that I’m completely happy with: when is something just immoral, and when should it also be illegal? My instinct is in this case, the law is not our friend. But I can’t see a good cut-off point on that either. Any thoughts on that?


P.S. – I’m writing this on two nights of four hours sleep each. And after a grad school class where we struggled with Swinburne on evil, and I feel a bit like I’m teetering on the edge of falling apart a bit. (It’s been a long, hard day.) My brain is tired. I do hope this makes sense, but if it doesn’t I’ll try to finetune what I was saying down the line..


Other Questions:

1. You say you support a woman’s right to make her own reproductive choices in regards to abortion and contraception. Are there any restrictions you would approve of?

2. In 2010, the Economist featured a cover story on “the war on girls” and the growth of “gendercide” in the world – abortion based solely on the sex of the baby. Does this phenomenon pose a problem for you or do you believe in the absolute right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy because the unborn fetus is female? [this post]

3. In many states, a teenager can have an abortion without her parents’ consent or knowledge but cannot get an aspirin from the school nurse without parental authorization. Do you support any restrictions or parental notification regarding abortion access for minors?

4. If you do not believe that human life begins at conception, when do you believe it begins? At what stage of development should an unborn child have human rights?

5. Currently, when genetic testing reveals an unborn child has Down Syndrome, most women choose to abort. How do you answer the charge that this phenomenon resembles the “eugenics” movement a century ago – the slow, but deliberate “weeding out” of those our society would deem “unfit” to live?

6. Do you believe an employer should be forced to violate his or her religious conscience by providing access to abortifacient drugs and contraception to employees?

7. Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King, Jr. has said that “abortion is the white supremacist’s best friend,” pointing to the fact that Black and Latinos represent 25% of our population but account for 59% of all abortions. How do you respond to the charge that the majority of abortion clinics are found in inner-city areas with large numbers of minorities?

8. You describe abortion as a “tragic choice.” If abortion is not morally objectionable, then why is it tragic? Does this mean there is something about abortion that is different than other standard surgical procedures?

9. Do you believe abortion should be legal once the unborn fetus is viable – able to survive outside the womb?

10. If a pregnant woman and her unborn child are murdered, do you believe the criminal should face two counts of murder and serve a harsher sentence?


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 27th, 2012 04:10 am (UTC)
Gender-selective abortion is a huge problem in many Indian states, so much so that the country has now outlawed the use of ultrasounds to determine gender. (I'm sure this is all in the Economist article, so sorry if I'm stating the obvious.) The "missing girls" phenomenon is going to be potentially disastrous in future generations.

It's something I find immensely disturbing, as a feminist, a pro-reproductive-rights individual, and as a human being. Unfortunately, as you point out, other than measures such as the ultrasound ban (which is easy enough to get around if you really want to find out a fetus's gender) it's not a problem that can be remedied by law. There's a couple of big issues here:

1) Any time you get into people's motivations for having an abortion (or for any number of medical procedures, or any number of other things), you're getting into territory that you just can't codify in law. (That's part of the reason that I find the discussion of "rape exceptions" troubling--it's this idea that a woman has to be sufficiently "innocent"/deserving in order to be entitled to an abortion.) Do I think people getting married just for money is objectionable? Sure, but I can't outlaw it without inventing some kind of spurious true love test that just can't exist.

2) When we're talking about gender-selective abortion, we're not really talking about an abortion problem. The disproportionate abortion of female fetuses is only a symptom of a greater culture in which poverty is endemic and girls are considered to be economic burdens because of dowry requirements and limited prospects for education and employment. (Dowry is also illegal in India, but that's one more thing you can't really enforce) Before sex-selective abortion, it was sometimes sex-selective infanticide, or sex-selective neglect. Sex-selective abortion is not an isolated issue, and even if you were to somehow magically eliminate it, it wouldn't do away with the powerful, centuries-old underlying issues that motivated it in the first place.

(Obvious disclaimer: not painting South Asian or any other cultures with a monolithic brush, here. Just touching on my take on one of the lows of a place that, like everywhere else, has many lows and many, many highs, and many, many people who are working to change the culture and improve lives.)
Nov. 27th, 2012 04:27 am (UTC)
Thanks for this, Aliana. I found it fascinating, particularly the way dowry figures in to it all. I simply thought girls didn't have the earning potential. This is precisely the kind of information non-Asians need to see what kind of steps would actually help with the problem.
Nov. 27th, 2012 03:15 pm (UTC)
The "missing girls" phenomenon is going to be potentially disastrous in future generations.

Already is in China, I believe, where the one-child policy has meant that Chinese parents have already spent a generation selectively producing boys by preference.

Totally agree with the point you so cogently make, and which Marta had already touched on: sex-selective abortion is a symptom, not the (social) disease. As you say, would sex-selective infanticide, or sheer maltreatment and abuse of "unwanted" women, be any better?

(For a picture of a society where there's no sex-selective abortion but where women are treated as chattels and worse - in this case, Afghanistan under the Taliban - I can recommend if you haven't read it, though it will make you spit with rage/want to hurl the book across the room and weep, Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns)
Nov. 27th, 2012 03:23 pm (UTC)
For me, I keep coming back in my mind to this American tendency to make bad stuff illegal, and think that's the end of the story. It's not just American, of course; that's just where I see it. And the older I get and the more I think about things, the more convinced I am: that's just one step along the road, even if it should be a step at all. It's a complicated problem that takes more than simple answers.

Az, I think I'd heard of that book but definitely haven't read it. I've just bought it on Kindle, though, because it sounds like something I definitely need to read. I teach at a school that, for all its high tuition, also has scholarships distributed through parochial schools in southeast Asia, meaning I've taught a fair number of students from Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Pakistan over the years. These are the lucky ones, from families willing to send their daughters far away to get an education - but even so, the effects of those attitudes toward women are fairly obvious at times.
Nov. 27th, 2012 07:36 pm (UTC)
I think I'd heard of that book but definitely haven't read it. I've just bought it on Kindle, though,

I knew in theory that most of what it depicts actually happens; but as so often, being placed in the middle of a vivid fictional(ised) account is a very different experience.

[Please note: contrary to my previous exhortation, I do not recommend that you hurl your Kindle across the room ;-)]
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )



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