Monday, February 19, 2007

Sex Selective Abortions (a dilemma)

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I'm pro-choice not because I believe that fetuses have no rights; nor because I believe that women have the absolute right to do what they want with their body. Clearly women don't: we don't let them exercise such a right in the case of drunk and driving; or assault; or murder.

The reason that I am pro-choice is because I believe that, up to a point, a woman's right to control her body and her future (neither of which are absolute) takes precedence over a fetus's potential right to life.

Of course this is hardly a novel position on the matter of abortion; and the only reason I raise it is to give you some perspective as to the following dilemma.

Ok, so I'm pro-choice: until the fetus's rights overtake those of its mother I don't think anyone - least of all the state - should be telling a woman to have a child or not.

The trouble is that sex selective abortion appalls me too. And it's a major issue in many parts of the world - particularly (but by no means exclusively) South and East Asia. Where it's something that contributes to the missing millions that Amartya Sen writes about.

Systematically discriminating against unborn women seems wrong to me, but the question that I struggle with is what is can be done.

Ethically, its hard to marry a belief that woman should be able to choose to bear child or not with one that suggests that it's wrong for her to make a choice on the base of gender.

Perhaps you could argue that the reason that you support a woman's right to choose is because of the major consequences of child birth and rearing. And you could argue that the whims of gender selection don't share this gravitas and so shouldn't be afforded the same protection. But this seems pretty darn tenuous to me. After all, the consequences of having a girl, rather than, a boy can be pretty devastating in some parts of the world (dowry's, beatings from disappointed husbands etc).

Likewise, you might argue on the basis of society's right to intervene in individual's decisions that have societal consequences. In China, for instance, gender imbalances are now of such a level that they have the potential to be destablising. So perhaps the Chinese government could claim the right to intervene in the name of the "greatest good for the greatest number." Now I'm a utilitarian (albeit something akin to a rule based one) but this creeps even me out. What's more I doubt that the overall good in this case is really great enough to justify such a fundamental intrusion into an individual's choices.

Another option might be to argue that the right to chose does not mean the right to discriminate; in the same vein that an employer's right to choose their employees doesn't grant them the right to choose who they select on the basis of gender or race. This sounds kind of plausible, but I'm not sure that it would really stand up to scrutiny.

And, finally, one could argue that the real problem isn't what women really choose, but what they are forced to choose by their families and partners, and patriarchal societies. And that what really needs to change is men's control over women. Get this right and sex selective abortions will disappear.

I think this view's mostly correct, but the trouble is what is to be done in the meantime (such changes, after all, take time to bring about). And sometimes - as is the case with homosexual law reform here in New Zealand and not hitting children legislation overseas - laws themselves can fast track changed mores.

Could these points possibly justify legislation against sex selective abortions????

I haven't got the faintest idea. I'd love to hear other people's thoughts on the matter...

3 comments:

Chris said...

And, finally, one could argue that the real problem isn't what women really choose, but what they are forced to choose by their families and partners, and patriarchal societies. And that what really needs to change is men's control over women. Get this right and sex selective abortions will disappear.

It seems to me that this is nearest to being the right approach. Both sex-selective abortion and the desire to ban abortions outright focus on the child/fetus. The mother is relegated to the status of brood mare or incubator. This isn't cool...

jo said...

Yeah. It has to be about the rights of the woman to choose...it's really tricky to know what the sex of the fetus is before a certain date (I think its 16-20 weeks..didn't find out till I birthed mine) so that would make this dubious in NZ anyways.
Umm I think women need to be able to make these choices for themselves and that these choices should be informed and un-pressured. Knowledge is power. If a woman was choosing to abort a female fetus because she knows that its life won't be worth living as a women in the third world. This has to be her choice. Her RIGHT is to choose. We need to work to ensure greater equality for future generations if we don't like the choices that these women have to make... not that you were saying this..I don't know (?)

Terence said...

thanks Jo,

i agree, it has to be the woman's right to choose - and that, in the end it's societal change that needs to brought about.

the only thing that troubles me is that societal changes takes time and in the meantime...