Women who justify sex-selective abortion need to check their privilege


9:15 am - September 22nd 2013

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by Amrit Saggu

Sarah Ditum recently wrote a piece for Guardian’s CIF site, titled ‘Why women have a right to sex-selective abortion’, which I feel requires a response.

Sarah says in the piece: ‘there is no demographic evidence of women practising sex selective abortion in Britain: this whole scandal is based on a totally fictive set-up.’ Yet she spends six of eight paragraphs discussing abortion in the UK.

This is not just lazy, it’s downright offensive. Sex-selective abortion is predominantly a problem in India and China. In other words, it’s a problem for women whose world has little to nothing to do with Sarah Ditum’s world. I am a woman who, under different circumstances, could well have been in that sex-selective abortion statistic.

First and foremost, unless there is actual concrete evidence that sex-selective abortion is genuinely being used as grounds to reduce abortion provision anywhere, this is mere emotional blackmail of the type often deployed by the pro-forced birthers.

The thing is, I agree with Sarah Ditum. It IS kinder to abort girl children than make them suffer. However, to draw a false equivalence between two different societies, even whilst admitting that you have no right to do so, is insulting.

It is insulting to so many women like myself, who have suffered precisely because our mothers, following Sarah’s way of thinking, brutalised us in various ways, thinking that they were ‘doing us a favour’ and ‘preparing us for the world.’

Fundamentally, it’s insulting also because it pretends that there is a parallel between the UK and India/China, as if Indian and Chinese women are in the same position to make a choice as Sarah and myself. Check your privilege, Sarah – we all come from different situations!

For a huge number of women in India and China, the idea of free and informed choice about ANYTHING, let alone the gender of a child, is a complete dream. When women are struggling to get basic biological needs met, how are they free or empowered enough to have any real say about something as publicly-vaunted in Asian culture as childbirth?

I’ve read and heard various stories about women who are forced, knowingly and unknowingly, to give up their girl children by husbands and/or in-laws, as in the horrific case of Dr. Mitu Khurana. It is very often mothers-in-law who are the most misogynistic, but of course, by your feminist model, they are just victims, right? Behaving ‘rationally’, right?

People might use the suffering of foreign brown women to threaten Western women’s gains – or, as is actually the case – dent your neat ideological certainty.

Thanks for showing some of the ignorance that continues to repel brown women like myself and distance us from feminism as a heavily white, Western, middle-and upper-class movement.

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Reader comments


I don’t understand this article. Where is the false equivalence happening? Surely the problem of women being pressured into sex-selective abortions (or indeed into any abortion) is a separate issue?

2. Niall Goulding

Are you telling her to CHP because her article about British women making decisions in the UK didn’t reflect on the plight of women who aren’t British in countries that aren’t the UK?

Bizarre.

To recap, this, by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, is the demographic outcome of differential gender-specific abortion:

In Europe and North America women tend to outnumber men. For example, in the United Kingdom, France, and the United States the ratio of women to men exceeds 1.05. In many Third World countries, however, especially in Asia and north Africa, the female:male ratio may be as low as 0.95 (Egypt), 0.94 (Bangladesh, China, and west Asia), 0.93 (India), or even 0.90 (Pakistan). These differences are relevant to an assessment of female inequality across the world
http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~dludden/GenderInequalityMissingWomen.pdf

The question is whether we are prepared to adjust to the social consequences: more prostitution, polyandry (plural marriages with each woman having several husbands) and more gay relationships.

Also in today’s news in the Telegraph: First the pride, then the persecution: why the world is turning nasty for gay people

Thanks for responding to my piece which, as you note, was principally about the situation in Britain, as I trust was obvious from the way I quoted the law of UK and Wales and was responding to comments from the head of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. I am in no doubt that sex-selective abortion is a deeply harmful where widely practised – elsewhere, I’ve called it a “scar on a scar”, the original scar being the profound misogyny that makes the elimination of female foetuses advantageous to families. I don’t imagine that decisions taken under misogynistic pressures are in any sense free: however, survival of a family in those circumstances often requires bending to bad logic rather than actively resisting it. As you say, women are often complicit in misogynist practices. But my belief is that if we fear the devaluing of women, we do not make them more valued as people by insisting they bear girls when there are very good reasons for not wanting to have girls. Instead, I think a more effective approach is to institute policies that make the lives of girls better: ending doweries, opening up education, enabling access to contraception. If you’d like to email me and discuss further, by all means use the form on my site to reach me: I am profoundly interested in women’s rights internationally, and in how feminism can represent all women in the fight for equality. One if my big concerns about the Telegraph’s campaign on sex-selective abortion is that it will result in an atmosphere where Asian women’s reproductive choices are subjected to harder scrutiny than those of other women.

This is one way of dealing with more gay relationships:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSSAfBsPzsI

Bob, stop hijacking threads.

This is obviously too complex an issue to easily unpick in a few paragraphs. I’d like to think that in Britain we can oppose misogyny and it’s consequences without prejudice, but along come racists and the special pleading for “cultural differences.” Bullshit on both counts.

By invoking sex-selective abortion as a feminist issue you achieved plenty of hits, Sarah, but you may have muddied the waters too. I suppose that if you believe that abortion is a right no matter the age of the foetus then your argument is logical. Most people would see such a position as extreme. I would agree with them.

Feminism has achieved great things over the decades, including legal abortion. Reactionaries are trying to roll back that progress. There’s a risk that articles based upon apparently extreme positions such as yours helps their cause.

7. So Much For Subtlety

This is not just lazy, it’s downright offensive.

I am sorry but have I missed something – it is downright offensive for a privileged White women not not lecture a bunch of poor Brown women on what they should or should not be doing? If the author did that wouldn’t that be, you know, imperialism? British people need to be concerned, first and foremost, with what British people do.

I am a woman who, under different circumstances, could well have been in that sex-selective abortion statistic.

And virtually everyone else here is someone who, under different circumstances, their mother wanting to have a holiday in Spain say, could have been a non-sex-selective abortion statistic. Does your present existence somehow negate your Mothers choice while pregnant?

Check your privilege, Sarah – we all come from different situations!

Check your privilege must be the laziest and stupidest cliche of Leftist politics since Stalinists popularised calling everyone Fascists. So what if we do? All the more reason for her to focus on Britain.

For a huge number of women in India and China, the idea of free and informed choice about ANYTHING, let alone the gender of a child, is a complete dream.

I am not sure I would agree with that. They may not be making the choice you want them to, but they know the impact of having a girl and the impact of having a boy. They are certainly informed.

It is very often mothers-in-law who are the most misogynistic, but of course, by your feminist model, they are just victims, right? Behaving ‘rationally’, right?

I would think most feminist theory would deem those women victims. After all they are not men. But they are most certainly behaving rationally.

Thanks for showing some of the ignorance that continues to repel brown women like myself and distance us from feminism as a heavily white, Western, middle-and upper-class movement.

But it always was an entirely White, Western, upper-middle class movement. Why hide it?

The bottom line is simple – if you believe in a woman’s right to choose, then she has a right to choose. End of story.

Cherub: “Bob, stop hijacking threads.”

How am I hijacking this thread by setting out, quite objectively, the consequences of differential gender-specific abortion and the options for dealing with the resulting gender imbalance?

This academic paper reviews another social arrangement for dealing with gender imbalance:

Functions and Limitations of Alaskan Eskimo Wife Trading
http://pubs.aina.ucalgary.ca/arctic/arctic23-1-24.pdf

9. the a&e charge nurse

‘It IS kinder to abort girl children than make them suffer’ – is the logic of this sentiment that the abortion rates should be far higher in those parts of the world were misery, or at least miserable social conditions for women are a virtual given?

As SMFS says @7 the reason for abortion is virtually irrelevant in the UK since there are no grounds for objecting to one (up to 24 weeks).

[4] ‘I think a more effective approach is to institute policies that make the lives of girls better: ending doweries, opening up education, enabling access to contraception’ – dream on – we might have a more rational approach once the malign influence of religion is diminished?
But sadly the sort of sexism you allude to is not only rationalised but authorised by religious ideologues, in order to prop up the wretched status quo that dowries, lack of education and contraception are associated with.

@8 BobB

There you go again.

The conundrum of sex-selective abortions is insoluble from the standpoint of pro-choice feminism. If you want to ban them, then you are rejecting the ‘woman’s right to choose’, and seeking to impose upon her your own view of what choices are valid for her. And there are racist implications in distinguishing between the ‘good’ abortions that mostly white women in Britain have, and the ‘bad’ abortions of brown and yellow women in Asia.

On the other hand, if you want to permit sex-selective abortions, then you are defending the practice that forms an integral part of the gendercide taking place in India and China; you are facilitating the extermination of women. How much ‘choice’ does a woman have, if her husband and in-laws are threatening to beat or kill her unless she has her baby girl aborted ? To permit sex-selective abortions is to appease the abusers.

The conundrum only arises because of the distorted way in which liberals in the West have come to view abortion. It’s one thing to argue – quite reasonably – that women who have abortions should not be treated as criminals, or have to put their health and lives at risk by going to the back streets. In that case, abortion is a social evil and decriminalisation is a palliative. The 1967 Abortion Act was justified by the need to deal with the problem of back-street abortions. But if you shift from viewing abortion as a problem that needs to be tackled humanely, to viewing it a solution – as something to be celebrated – then you’ll tie yourself in knots ethically: facilitating the targeted killing of baby girls on the grounds of ‘women’s rights’.

(by way of comparison, there’s a big difference between opposing banning the niqab, and actually defending wearing the niqab as an expression of women’s freedom)

The bottom line is: unless there is strong reason to believe that the illegality of sex-selective abortions is putting women’s lives at risk – either from the violence of husbands and relatives, or from driving them to seek back-street abortions – then there is no reason to make them legal. If keeping them illegal leads to more little girls being born who would otherwise be killed, then that is something liberals and feminists should support.

Sarah – Thanks for your response.

I appreciate what you’re saying about your piece referring to ‘the situation in Britain,’ but as you yourself noted in it, there IS no situation in Britain. Ann Furedi made a few remarks in relation to two women.

I appreciate that Cif requires you to respond to current issues, but perhaps you could then have avoided discussing a situation which doesn’t pertain to you? Why not stick to Britain entirely?

RE:’I don’t imagine that decisions taken under misogynistic pressures are in any sense free: however, survival of a family in those circumstances often requires bending to bad logic rather than actively resisting it.’ The point I was trying to make is that in many cases, there isn’t even a decision being made, it’s more like saying your lines in a script that’s already been written for you, or fluffing them.

‘But my belief is that if we fear the devaluing of women, we do not make them more valued as people by insisting they bear girls when there are very good reasons for not wanting to have girls.’

Again, unless you have evidence of this happening in other societies, making such a statement just makes it appear like you’re trying to be more feminist-than-thou. If this is happening in Britain, let’s address that and stay out of what is happening in India and China unless – as I said – there is evidence of women being subjected to forced birth.

I’ve emailed you re: the other stuff you mention.

13. So Much For Subtlety

9. the a&e charge nurse

the reason for abortion is virtually irrelevant in the UK since there are no grounds for objecting to one (up to 24 weeks).

Well no. There are grounds for doing so, but there is a tacit agreement we will all look the other way and allow de facto abortion on demand. That is not what the law allows, but no one wants to fight over it.

we might have a more rational approach once the malign influence of religion is diminished?

Why? What religion supports sex selection by any means at all? None I know of. Some are indifferent to it – like Buddhism. But that is all.

But sadly the sort of sexism you allude to is not only rationalised but authorised by religious ideologues, in order to prop up the wretched status quo that dowries, lack of education and contraception are associated with.

Dowry is a response to a lack of women. It has nothing to do with religion. Nor do I know of any religion that actively opposes education for women – Islam perhaps. And virtually all of them allow women access to contraception. There are few Catholics in India and China.

There is an atheist state that forbids religion in so far as it can and bans dowries, forces education of girls and allows all forms of contraception including abortion on demand. That is, China. They still have this problem.

It is economic, not religious.

Marko Attila Hoare

The conundrum of sex-selective abortions is insoluble from the standpoint of pro-choice feminism.

No it isn’t. Have the courage of your convictions and allow an abortion for any reason at all. It is a woman’s right to choose or it is not.

On the other hand, if you want to permit sex-selective abortions, then you are defending the practice that forms an integral part of the gendercide taking place in India and China; you are facilitating the extermination of women.

There is no gendercide going on because no girls are being killed – if you believe in abortion. It is a parasitic clump of cells in the woman’s body. Her body, her right to choose. Women are not being exterminated unless you believe the foetus to be a person. I find it odd that so many feminists come over all Pope Pius on this issue. Why is the termination of a male foetus any different?

How much ‘choice’ does a woman have, if her husband and in-laws are threatening to beat or kill her unless she has her baby girl aborted ? To permit sex-selective abortions is to appease the abusers.

And how does that not apply to every country and every form of abortion? How much choice does a Western woman have if the boy friend beats her or refuses to take any responsibility etc etc?

But if you shift from viewing abortion as a problem that needs to be tackled humanely, to viewing it a solution – as something to be celebrated – then you’ll tie yourself in knots ethically: facilitating the targeted killing of baby girls on the grounds of ‘women’s rights’.

But if it is a solution to backyard abortions, a ban on sex selective abortion does not work or they will just ho back to the back streets. You can still celebrate it, because, after all, no baby girls are being killed if you take that view. Just some cells. The insanity is to give personhood to those cells if you deem the motive for killing them wrong.

If keeping them illegal leads to more little girls being born who would otherwise be killed, then that is something liberals and feminists should support.

You would force a woman who does not want her child to have the child anyway? I foresee a lot of domestic accidents involving boiling water. Banning all abortions would result in more girls being born. The Pope would no doubt celebrate. Millions more.

There is no sane reason to choose any but two positions – either the foetus is a person and so abortion is murder and should be as close to illegal as possible, or it is not a person and the mother can ask for an abortion for any reason whatsoever. The rest is illogical.

14. Churm Rincewind

@ SFMS (13): “There is no sane reason to choose any but two positions – either the foetus is a person and so abortion is murder and should be as close to illegal as possible, or it is not a person and the mother can ask for an abortion for any reason whatsoever. The rest is illogical.”

Not necessarily. The liberal/libertarian tradition allows for areas of grey. Every schoolboy knows the conundrum posed by the fact that most people would agree with the two apparently incompatible statements that “killing people is morally wrong” and “killing people in the pursuance of a just war can be morally right”. This may be an illogical position in the eyes of moral absolutists, but it does seem to be what most people believe without difficulty. On the same basis, I see no intellectual problem with the position that abortion can be sometimes right and sometimes wrong.

There is a fascinating video clip archived on YouTube of an Eskimo/Inuit wife sharing party dating back to 1922:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVGfHAa-nC8

By all appearances, those present in the iglu seemed to be having a lot of fun. Wife sharing is evidently a thoroughly practical way of overcoming the social tensions created by gender imbalance.

16. Richard Carey

If you’re a feminist and you think it’s okay to abort baby girls specifically because they’re girls, then you need to go back and check your workings.

@16 I doubt they think it’s ‘okay’ I suspect it’s more ‘If you support the right of a women to determine what grows inside her body or not, then you should support that right even when they make choices you disagree with.’ Which covers aborting pregnancies on the basis of not wanting a mixed race baby, or a gay baby, or a downs syndrome baby, or not wanting either a boy or girl.

Such is the danger of letting people decide for themselves what they want.

So Much For Subtlety is right that if you believe in a ‘woman’s right to choose’, then you have to support her right to have a sex-selective abortion, because you have no business deciding on her behalf which choices are valid and which are not. Otherwise you are essentially saying ‘a woman has the right to choose, but only for reasons that I consider legitimate’, which makes a mockery of the principle of it being her choice. There’s indeed no intellectual problem with the position that abortion is ‘sometimes right and sometimes wrong’ (which is roughly how existing British law sees it), but it isn’t compatible with being ‘pro-choice’.

On the other hand, So Much For Subtlety is wrong to claim ‘There is no gendercide going on because no girls are being killed – if you believe in abortion.’ Assuming gendercide is equivalent to genocide (only directed against a gender rather than against a national, ethnic, racial or religious group) then it should be remembered that it does not have to involve actually killing people. As the UN Genocide Convention makes clear, genocide can be carried out by ‘Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group’. For example, the Nazis could in principle have carried out genocide against Jews or gypsies simply by sterilising them rather than killing them, which would have resulted in the destruction of the group. So whether or not you believe a fetus is a person, female feticide can be (and in India and China is) an element in gendercide.

So paradoxically (or not), supporting a ‘woman’s right to choose’, means supporting her right to engage in female feticide, which in turn means facilitating the gendercide of women in India and China, thereby weakening the position of women in these countries. What may arguably benefit an individual woman may weaken women collectively (by way of comparison, recognising the right of council tenants to buy their council houses may enrich individual working-class families while helping to impoverish working-class people in general). It’s not a problem if what matters to you is the choice bit of ‘pro-choice feminism’, but it should be a concern if what matters to you is the feminism bit.

I believe many Indian feminists and activists are aware that the Anglo-Saxon or Western model of pro-choice feminism does not address the reality of gendercide in India and China, and that Amrit Saggu’s critique of Sarah Ditum makes this point.

So Much For Subtlety is right that if you believe in a ‘woman’s right to choose’ then you have to support her right to have a sex-selective abortion, because you have no business deciding on her behalf which choices are valid and which are not. Otherwise you are essentially saying ‘a woman has the right to choose, but only for reasons that I consider legitimate’, which makes a mockery of the principle of it being her choice. There’s indeed no intellectual problem with the position that abortion is ‘sometimes right and sometimes wrong’ (which is roughly how existing British law sees it), but it isn’t compatible with being ‘pro-choice’.

On the other hand, So Much For Subtlety is wrong to claim ‘There is no gendercide going on because no girls are being killed – if you believe in abortion.’ Assuming gendercide is equivalent to genocide (only directed against a gender rather than against a national, ethnic, racial or religious group) then it should be remembered that it does not have to involve actually killing people. As the UN Genocide Convention makes clear, genocide can be carried out by ‘Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group’. For example, the Nazis could in principle have carried out genocide against Jews or gypsies simply by sterilising them rather than killing them, which would have resulted in the destruction of the group. So whether or not you believe a fetus is a person, female feticide can be (and in India and China is) an element in gendercide.

So paradoxically (or not), supporting a ‘woman’s right to choose’, means supporting her right to engage in female feticide, which in turn means facilitating the gendercide of women in India and China, thereby weakening the position of women in these countries. What may arguably benefit an individual woman may weaken women collectively (by way of comparison, recognising the right of council tenants to buy their council houses may enrich individual working-class families while helping to impoverish working-class people in general). It’s not a problem if what matters to you is the choice bit of ‘pro-choice feminism’, but it should be a concern if what matters to you is the feminism bit.

I believe many Indian feminists and activists are aware that the Anglo-Saxon or Western model of pro-choice feminism does not address the reality of gendercide in India and China, and that Amrit Saggu’s critique of Sarah Ditum makes this point.

Never gender-selective abortions and the demographic consequences of that. Technology has advanced to the stage where an option is emerging to read and interpret the genome of a foetus in the womb. There will be commercial pressures for mothers to have the option of aborting foetuses where the genome interpretation doesn’t come up to expectations.

Is that OK? At last, the means for breeding the Master Race, just like the Eugenicists always wanted.

Anyone who uses the phrase “check your privilege” is a Nazi.

23. So Much For Subtlety

14. Churm Rincewind

Not necessarily. The liberal/libertarian tradition allows for areas of grey.

All traditions allow for the grey but consider this area of grey – you are saying that you will support an abortion for reasons you like, but you would want to ban it for reasons you do not. So a family that needs an heir cannot have an abortion but a woman who is going on holiday to Spain in two weeks and wants to look good in a bikini can. This is purile.

Richard Carey

If you’re a feminist and you think it’s okay to abort baby girls specifically because they’re girls, then you need to go back and check your workings.

Really? Explain the workings to me that makes a woman’s right to choose any less emphatic and unlimited as any other right? By the way, how would you police this?

24. So Much For Subtlety

18. Marko Attila Hoare

On the other hand, So Much For Subtlety is wrong to claim ‘There is no gendercide going on because no girls are being killed – if you believe in abortion.’ Assuming gendercide is equivalent to genocide (only directed against a gender rather than against a national, ethnic, racial or religious group) then it should be remembered that it does not have to involve actually killing people. As the UN Genocide Convention makes clear, genocide can be carried out by ‘Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group’. For example, the Nazis could in principle have carried out genocide against Jews or gypsies simply by sterilising them rather than killing them, which would have resulted in the destruction of the group. So whether or not you believe a fetus is a person, female feticide can be (and in India and China is) an element in gendercide.

I think that is not a good parallel. The reason is that the Convention requires the contraception to be forced on a community. There is no evidence that this is happening here. Women are making their own choices. If all Jews suddenly decided not to have children that would not be genocide would it? In fact that is pretty much what is happening with liberal Jews in the West. They are choosing not to have many children and those that they are having are often mixed and so the Reform Jewish community is disappearing. That is not like genocide because it is freely chosen by the individuals concerned.

There is also a lack of intent. These women do not intend to wipe out all female-kind. A micro-level decision may have a macro-level impact, but they do not actively seek that larger impact. They would be happy, I am sure, for other women to have baby girls. Delighted even. Their sons have to marry someone after all.

Bottom line is, if you believe in abortion on demand it is impossible for you to oppose sex selective abortion. Without being an idiot, that is!

26. So Much For Subtlety

20. Bob B

There will be commercial pressures for mothers to have the option of aborting foetuses where the genome interpretation doesn’t come up to expectations.

Why would there be commercial pressures? What possible commercial pressures could there be? There is already social, that is to say government, pressure on mothers who have foetuses with recognisable defects. Down’s syndrome babies for instance. After all, they cost the government money. So the NHS pushes women hard to abort them. No doubt they will do the same when they have more tests.

Is that OK? At last, the means for breeding the Master Race, just like the Eugenicists always wanted.

Denmark is a big exporter of male semen because many women want tall, blonde, blue eyed donors. Is that breeding the Master Race?

I wonder how far people are going to go with this argument. The Far Right often calls immigration a type of genocide because the British, as they have always traditionally existed, will disappear through inter-marriage with non-Whites. If a woman makes a choice to have a non-White baby, is she committing genocide?

Seems that any decision could be taken the wrong way.

27. Richard Carey

@ SMFS,

I wish you’d actually be subtle for a change, and stop stomping around in hobnail boots.

SMFS,

It isn’t right to compare a minority peacefully assimilating into a multiethnic whole with the violent extermination of all or part of a group. The situation of women in India would better be compared with that of an ethnic minority living under the domination of an extremely racist majority, in which members of the minority group were frequently beaten or threatened with death every time one of them became pregnant, and pressurised to abort. If that then led to a massive fall in the birth-rate among the minority, it could reasonably be described as genocide. And genocide does not have to involve an intent to destroy an entire group, merely an intent to destroy it ‘in whole or in part’.

One of the problems with the ‘pro-choice’ position is that it assumes women are wholly autonomous moral agents completely free to make their own choices. But women in India (and elsewhere) are very often far from free to choose, and the pressure to abort baby girls does not occur in a vacuum. As the editor of this blog has written:

‘Let’s start with a figure: 60 million. That is nearly the entire population of the United Kingdom. That is also the approximate number of women “missing” in India. They have either been aborted before birth, killed once born, died of neglect because they were girls, or perhaps murdered by their husband’s family for not paying enough dowry at marriage.’

In the UK, as you point out yourself, we don’t so much target girls through abortion as disabled people. If the NHS ‘pushes women hard’ to abort babies with Down’s syndrome or spina bifida, and if such abortions kill off around 90% of babies with these conditions, then surely that’s equivalent to genocide.

@28

I wonder how far people are going to go with this argument. The Far Right often calls immigration a type of genocide because the British, as they have always traditionally existed, will disappear through inter-marriage with non-Whites. If a woman makes a choice to have a non-White baby, is she committing genocide?

It isn’t right to compare a minority peacefully assimilating into a multiethnic whole with the violent extermination of all or part of a group.

In that instance, why is it that conservationists are concerned that the British wild cat is being wiped out as a unique species by domestic cats breeding with them, and the kittens of those unions going on to then further ‘breed out’ the wild cats?

One of the problems with the ‘pro-choice’ position is that it assumes women are wholly autonomous moral agents completely free to make their own choices. But women in India (and elsewhere) are very often far from free to choose, and the pressure to abort baby girls does not occur in a vacuum.

Well for a start the “pressure to abort baby girls does not occur in a vacuum” applies here too, how many abortions are motivated by socio-economic pressures, do you think? Secondly if women are not given a choice, then pro-choice has nothing to do with it, the correct distinction there is ‘pro-abortion or anti-abortion’. The whole point of pro-choice is not necessarily ‘abortions for all’ more ‘giving women that option’, it would not be out of place for someone to be pro-choice while simultaneously campaigning for measures (such as universal child support, for example) that would increase the chances that women wouldn’t opt to abort their pregnancies in the first instance.

They have either been aborted before birth, killed once born, died of neglect because they were girls, or perhaps murdered by their husband’s family for not paying enough dowry at marriage.

So abortion is but 1 of many symptoms. Will banning abortion even affect the underlying cause in any way whatsoever, or will it just change the nature of that particular symptom that Indian Women suffer?

Cylux,

‘Well for a start the “pressure to abort baby girls does not occur in a vacuum” applies here too, how many abortions are motivated by socio-economic pressures, do you think?’

Indeed. Very many.

‘The whole point of pro-choice is not necessarily ‘abortions for all’ more ‘giving women that option’, it would not be out of place for someone to be pro-choice while simultaneously campaigning for measures (such as universal child support, for example) that would increase the chances that women wouldn’t opt to abort their pregnancies in the first instance.’

But in that case, the person campaigning for those measures would have to view a reduction in the number of abortions as something desirable, and would be seeking to steer women away from having them by offering positive support. Which would be very commendable, but it would contradict the genuinely pro-choice position, which is that the two choices (having an abortion or giving birth) are equally valid, and it is up to the woman alone to decide which one is right for her.

‘So abortion is but 1 of many symptoms. Will banning abortion even affect the underlying cause in any way whatsoever, or will it just change the nature of that particular symptom that Indian Women suffer?’

It would probably mean fewer abortions overall, therefore fewer baby girls would lose their lives. But on the other hand it might mean more illegal abortions, therefore more adult women’s health put at risk. It might also mean more acts of infanticide against girls already born. So you’re right – banning abortion would not end the gendercide, merely alter the form it takes. Repression alone cannot really solve social evils such as abortion, infanticide and misogyny, any more than it can solve social evils such as drug abuse or prostitution.

But it’s very difficult to argue in favour of encouraging Indian women not to abort their baby girls, if you’re at the same time telling them that they should feel completely free to abort them if they want to, and that their freedom to choose is all that matters.

But in that case, the person campaigning for those measures would have to view a reduction in the number of abortions as something desirable, and would be seeking to steer women away from having them by offering positive support. Which would be very commendable, but it would contradict the genuinely pro-choice position, which is that the two choices (having an abortion or giving birth) are equally valid, and it is up to the woman alone to decide which one is right for her.

Not necessarily, the position can be easily sustained by a careful weighing of all the options and consequences thereof, for example:

banning abortion =/= no abortions will take place

In much the same way that banning drugs has not in the least made it difficult to obtain illegal substances, and indeed has made peddling such quite lucrative compared with the risks involved.

And as you yourself note

But on the other hand it might mean more illegal abortions, therefore more adult women’s health put at risk. It might also mean more acts of infanticide against girls already born.

A ban could quite easily lead to a situation which could be qualified as ‘worse’. Ultimately it all hinges on just how authoritarian and single minded someone is willing to be in order to reduce abortions. As I mentioned above @17, if you’re pro choice you should maintain that position even where you thoroughly believe that decision to be morally repugnant, so with that in mind I have no problem with someone being pro-choice, while wishing that all women would choose not to terminate their pregnancy.

so are you saying women in more sexist societies don’t exercise any agency within their co-ordinates at all?

And that brown women are just victims, end of? And the solution would be, in relation to access to abortion, to?

33. So Much For Subtlety

28. Marko Attila Hoare

It isn’t right to compare a minority peacefully assimilating into a multiethnic whole with the violent extermination of all or part of a group.

I would agree. But is that where your argument is taking you?

<i.The situation of women in India would better be compared with that of an ethnic minority living under the domination of an extremely racist majority, in which members of the minority group were frequently beaten or threatened with death every time one of them became pregnant, and pressurised to abort.

But you are assuming that there is violence involved. And I am sure there is in some cases. Although it would be hard to measure against the background of high levels of violence. But not in all cases. Maybe not in most. In my experience of Third World women, they want male children and don’t need to be beaten into it.

And genocide does not have to involve an intent to destroy an entire group, merely an intent to destroy it ‘in whole or in part’.

The intent covers one foetus at a time. That is a pretty small part.

If the NHS ‘pushes women hard’ to abort babies with Down’s syndrome or spina bifida, and if such abortions kill off around 90% of babies with these conditions, then surely that’s equivalent to genocide.

If? They do. Is it? Down’s Syndrome babies are not an ethnic group. But they are definitely endangered.

Still the logical position remains – either women have the right to choose or they do not.

Step Left:

If you’re talking to me, uh… nuh. To both your points.

I am discussing this directly with Sarah now, but the basic issue I had with her (which seems to be astonishingly beyond too many people) is what Marko Attila Hoare said.

The UK and India/China are not really comparable in terms of access to abortion, attitudes, types available, etc., so I find it unnecessary and somewhat insulting to make out that a woman choosing abortion ‘here’ is the same as it would be in India/China.

Context is everything. ‘A woman’s right to choose’ reflects a broader way of thinking, which is individualistic and liberal and characteristic of the UK. India and China are not societies which centre on the individual, and less free in a number of ways. I avoid discussing abortion in those societies, because of the vastly different contexts, it’s not something I have much knowledge of and abortion is a charged issue. The same goes for Sarah, which was why I called out her piece.

I don’t understand why people have such binary thinking on abortion. It is a human process, done by and for humans. I suppose attitudes are similar to those on things like benefits…

We socialists have put up with PC bullies lecturing us about how bloody privileged we are for too long and we’re not going to stand for it any longer. Go back to your ivory towers and let those of us who want to change the world rather than merely critique it get on with our business.

Chris: “let those of us who want to change the world rather than merely critique it get on with our business”

I don’t think anybody’s stopping you, so chin up and just get on with it x

37. Churm Rincewind

@ SFMS (23) In response to my previous post you remark that “all traditions allow for the grey but consider this area of grey – you are saying that you will support an abortion for reasons you like, but you would want to ban it for reasons you do not. So a family that needs an heir cannot have an abortion but a woman who is going on holiday to Spain in two weeks and wants to look good in a bikini can. This is puerile.”

No, I didn’t say that at all, and I’m bemused that you think I did. I offered no opinion on the circumstances in which an abortion might be considered right or wrong. I simply pointed out that there is an entirely respectable and intellectually coherent liberal/libertarian tradition of thought which accommodates the idea that rule-based moral precepts need not necessarily be absolute in all circumstances.

This is not a view which everyone shares. Though you may say that all traditions allow for the grey, my understanding of the Catholic position on abortion, for example, does not accommodate any position in which abortion is morally justified.

I conducted a wee search amongst the comments on this thread, and none of them were concerned about ‘check your/their privilege’. Only Sooty, SMFS, mentioned the word ‘privilege’.

I check my personal privilege all of the time. But my perception of privilege is different.

My grandfather was the cleaner at the grammar school which I attended. Was I privileged because I received more free sweets in the tuck shop queue? Perhaps.


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