Friday, April 25, 2008

Finally, the Post About Sex Selective Abortion

I want to talk about sex selective abortion. In the anti-choice blogosphere, the issue has become an easy way to condemn abortion, and attempt to make feminists look stupid at the same time. As if by allowing abortion to become legal, this is what we must reap. Well, fuck that. Sex selection is not acceptable. Abortion is. How can that be??

Most of you probably know that both sex selective abortion and infanticide are huge problems in places like India and China, where having a girl means eventually having to pay a dowry, among other (mostly financial) concerns. Of course this has led to a big shortage of women to marry for a whole generation of Chinese men, but we'll let them figure that out. The point is, this isn't just a problem that's happening "over there". In Canada, specifically BC, there have definitely been "birth disparities" (ie an unnaturally high ratio of boys to girls) that, while they have been pinpointed to certain cultural groups, are nevertheless a concern of all of ours.

I saw a terrific presentation on this subject at the NAF conference by a representative of the SOGC. Her main concern was disclosure. While we can all agree that sex selection is unethical, what is the doctor's responsibility in disclosing the sex of the fetus, especially if he/she suspects that it is for sex selective reasons?

Well, according to the SOGC guidelines, if asked, the doctor cannot withold the information. This is becoming old news though, because now there are these special clinics where, at eight or nine weeks into the pregnancy, for a considerable sum of money, you can find out the sex of your baby. There is no doctor needed, and it's completely anonymous. Not to sound like a typical anti-choicer here, but what kind of person runs these clinics? Who would want to profit from something so vile?

Anyway, obviously it's a more complicated societal problem than I'm making it sound. But that's the point, really; it's societal attitudes that are the problem, not disclosure and certainly not abortion. It's the attitudes and beliefs that we have about women that make it okay to use sex selection. Outlawing abortion will not help; it will just lead to more female infanticide, which I hope we can all agree is WAY worse.

For a bit of a convoluted metaphor, think of a machete. You might think machetes are terrible because, like me, you've read all kinds of stuff about the Rwandan genocide and are repulsed by the thought of how many people were hacked to bits using them. On the other hand, while working on a fruit farm in Costa Rica I found the machete to be an extremely useful tool that not only helped the other volunteers and me to cut away unwanted weeds, build lots of things like a compost box and a new outhouse, but also kill deadly things like scorpions that found their way into our bedrooms. Without machetes, we wouldn't have been able to do anything useful at all. So you see, the machete itself is a neutral tool. It's the person who determines to what use it should be put. (I told you it was convoluted).

Abortion is like that, in this instance. It may seem evil because it is helping in the sex selection, but when you use it to help women who genuinely need it, it's good. But the truth is, like the machete, abortion is neither good nor bad.

The problem, as outlined at this presentation I went to, is that science is ahead of both ethics and the law. We can do so many things now that we didn't know would come so fast, and we just haven't had the discussions we need to have about how to ethically use this technology. It's like these crazy 4D ultrasounds or whatever. Imagine being able to see things like the facial features of your future child. For some people this is going to be a really exciting addition to the joy of expecting a baby, but for others there's the possibility of genetic selection, and abortion based not just on diseases and disabilities, but also on what the kid will look like.

Basically, it's a very scary slippery slope and the lawmakers and ethicists and society in general need to get on this FAST. So, you know, Margaret Somerville needs to stop bleating about abortion and teh gayzz and start actually being an ethicist.

On the other hand, I don't think I really want Somerville making the decisions about this stuff.


Anonymous said...

Good post Pedge. I really dig the machete metaphor.

Sex selective abortion is a seriously messed up concept, but it isn't the fault of legal abortion or of the pro-choice movement. Rather, it is a construct of our society, where for some crazy reason, male children are sometimes valued more than female children. Just as you said, the answer isn't to criminalize abortion. That only removes one potential means of sex selection, and it leaves all of the women who validly want or need an abortion without a viable remedy. The answer has to be to change the mentality that has allowed this reprehensible behavior to exist.


Anonymous said...

hey pedge, I am all about the same thing you guys are all about

Anonymous said...

the reason behind sex-selective abortion is that having a son is like having prosperity whereas, having a daughter is a burden because with a son you receive a dowry and he can work for you when you get older but with a daughter you have to give a dowry and work longer...see how corrupt the world is it all comes down to money!

Chantal said...

Do you think that a woman wanting an abortion for the reason of sex selection should be force to continue her pregnancy? In those cultures having a girl can be detrimental for the woman.

The Pedgehog said...

No, I don't think a woman should EVER be forced to continue her pregnancy. I believe abortion should be accessible no matter what the reason.