#Occupy: Not down, not out »« Hate the belief, not the believer

Wrong per se

So this might be a first, but I am hoping to crowdsource some resolution on this topic. Last week I posted about the clear evil that I saw in abortion for sex selection. I thought for sure that the readership would join me in condemning such a barbaric and nakedly misogynistic practice.

What I got instead was a surprising amount of tacit “aww shucks” support for the right of someone to choose to abort a pregnancy because the child is female. Nobody thought it was a good idea, but there were very few people who gave it the kind of blanket condemnation that I had initially approached it with.

This wouldn’t ordinarily be a problem for me. After all, any given post might yield a few or a lot of dissenting opinions. I consider it a mark of honour that I have engaged, intelligent and thoughtful readers who may disagree with me on any number of topics. It forces me to become better at defending my ideas, or to learn to change my ideas in places where it is clear that I am wrong.

Here’s the thing though: I am really struggling with this particular issue. I can’t see it as anything other than a bright red line – sex-selective abortion is wrong. Abortion because you can’t raise a child or you’re not ready to be a parent or you don’t want the father to be a part of your life forever are all perfectly valid reasons in my book. I do not see abortion as a tragic event, unless a child is wanted but cannot be brought to term for medical reasons. Even still, the part of my brain that tells me right from wrong sends up big warning signs about selecting against sex or race or other physical features.

We can avoid the utilitarian/practical argument against slavery, for example, by pointing to the importance of respecting human autonomy. The right of an individual to self-determine outweighs the usefulness of forcing them to work for you (and the utility you gain thereby). Autonomy is off the table here, since we are talking about an embryo that is not yet a moral agent. Rawls’ veil of ignorance is off the table for the same reason – you have to have the capacity to want something to factor into the decision-making process.

So here is my question: is there a non-consequentialist ethical argument that can be brought to bear against sex-selective abortion? Is there one that can be brought against racism or sexism per se that would include sex-selective abortion? Do we run the risk of subscribing to “just ’cause” moral arguments, or is there simply no way to accommodate both my wish for reproductive autonomy and my revulsion at the idea of selecting against women?

Basically, is there a rational way to say that these things are wrong without having to bring practicability into the argument?

If they don’t show up on their own, I may bring in the two philosophical heavies I have in my Rolodex to help me hash this one out. I am curious and eager to hear your thoughts.

Comments

  1. Alverant says

    Basically, is there a rational way to say that these things are wrong without having to bring practicability into the argument?

    I would say no because for me a way to tell if something is rational is to ask about its practicability.

    My impression is that you’re asking “How do we let people do X without them going overboard and doing X for immoral reasons.” So if we let people drink beer how do we keep them from getting drunk? We can’t.

    Someone is going to abuse the system no matter what you do.

  2. fastlane says

    I don’t think it’s as black and white as you claim. Abortion is either legal or not.

    What if it were a case where a family already had, for instance, 2 boys, and really wanted a girl. If they test early, find out it’s another boy, and make the decision to abort, it’s not really for the law to decide if they have good reason or not.

    I personally find it morally/ethically questionable, but an unwanted child is an unwanted child.

    In places like China, they will naturally reap the results of their choices in the near future. *shrug* I guess a part of me would rather see a child aborted early, for whatever reason, than have to be born into a world in which they aren’t wanted.

  3. maureen.brian says

    Did you see this story in today’s Guardian?

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jan/30/afghan-strangles-wife-baby-girl?INTCMP=SRCH

    On that basis I’ll say that though I might be with you in principle I’ll be sympathetic to / tolerant of people making such decisions until the rights of women are truly protected. Or at least until Afghan men and their peers find out how the sex of the embryo is determined.

    (From friends who worked in Afghanistan in the 80’s and 90’s it is mind-boggling how the knowledge of biology we take for granted is a total mystery and, I was told, how grateful they are to be given knowledge which then empowers them. Rather than being told do this, do that and ask no questions.)

  4. Mary P says

    I struggle with this one. I believe that it is totally wrong to selectively abort based on sex unless there are other genetic reasons. However when it comes to practicality, how do we deal with this? My understanding is that China tried to ban the practice but was not successful.

    I had hoped that the shortage of marriage partners would improve the position of women in these cultures but this does not appear to be happening – at least not yet. Some of the news reports I have read/heard suggest that the number of unmarried men in China is causing social problems.

    Although I believe that the abortion of children based solely on sex is morally repugnant and ethically wrong I believe the only way to decrease and/or prevent this is to convince society in general of my beliefs. How to do this I don’t know.

    I don’t think that we can ban sex selection abortions without restricting abortions for other reasons. I suspect that any attempt to restrict abortions will open the door to groups who believe any abortion is wrong.

    I would love to hear what your heavy hitters have to say.

  5. says

    I think the problem may be that you’re combining two behaviors and treating them as one.

    The active preference for one sex over another is wrong. Bright-line? No problem. Just plain old wrong. (Says the childfree commenter.)

    Then there is abortion. Because of the ubiquity of the first problem, you see plenty of overlap between sex selection and abortion. That still doesn’t make the abortion the bad part of the combination. In fact, given that sex selection doesn’t stop at birth, the abortion may well still be a very good thing indeed.

    So, yes, despise sex-selective abortions. Just realize that the reasons you despise it have nothing to do with abortion.

  6. says

    It is a terrible thing when it is done because parents hate women, but, well, what are you going to do about it? Force the women to carry and go through labor to give birth to children they will neglect? That seems like the most draconian anti-woman measure possible.

    And you couldn’t easily put in place restrictions that would hide the sex of the fetus from everyone but the licensed doctors until birth given today’s technology, but that might be the best solution if a bit troublesome. Some people do this willingly even today, though, but such people will care for their child regardless of the child’s sex.

    I’d have to agree with people like Carlie on the last thread that the cultural values are what need to be changed in such cases. The bottom line is that it is horrendously inhumane to be so prejudiced against different kinds of people that you’d willingly participate in such a crime against humanity of systematically detecting and aborting the kinds of people you don’t like (that goes for everyone involved, not just the pregnant women).

  7. KG says

    Can’t help you here as I don’t believe any non-consequentialist ethical arguments are sound. On the sex-selective abortion question, I’m inclined to think the consequences of allowing governmental authorities to dictate when a woman may or may not have an abortion are worse than those of sex-selective abortion.

  8. Martin says

    I’m not with you.

    If a woman decides not to carry a foetus to term, for any reason whatsoever, it is her decision to abort. It is not up to you to cast moral aspersions on that decision, no matter how repugnant you find her choice.

    You start off by condemning gender selection, then slowly you’ll add other genetic traits and eventually slut-shame all abortions.

  9. Brad says

    I certainly agree that sex-selection abortion “feels” very morally problematic.

    It’s also true (as others are pointing out) that it’d be practically impossible to outlaw (while keeping abortion legal in general), since that would carry us into the area of motive, which is hard to objectively assess.

    A couple of comments about how this could impact the abortion debate:

    * If this practice is widespread, it certainly gives abortion opponents an additional measure of rhetorical ammunition (along with the trope of abortion as casual birth control)

    * Since sex testing isn’t possible until later in pregnancy, it makes the pro-choice “it’s just a collection of cells” argument weaker

    It’s going to be difficult to come up with any moral argument that wouldn’t be able to be used against abortion in general.

  10. kraut says

    I am not in favour of abortion, after all, do we not have enough contraceptives available?
    I am against the criminalization of abortion, which in Canada we have achieved, and I see abortion as a last ditch emergency.

    I am in principle against any killing animal or human, unless it is for nutrition (I hunt and fish) or in self defense.
    I therefore cannot justify abortion to myself except in certain circumstances, i.e contraceptives not working,rape, the endangerment of the life of the mother or economic circumstances that would make the child unwanted.

    I do not see sex selection as falling under any category of necessity. I view the use of abortion for sex selection as a statement of ownership: it is I who selects what sex my child will be, because I own that child. What is the difference between selecting the sex of a child and the postnatal abuse of religious indoctrination? Both treat the child as an object, and not a person in their own right.

  11. ambassadorfromverdammt says

    This.

    The sex selection is occuring whether the female fetus is aborted or not. It is occuring whether the woman gets pregnant or not. It is embedded in the culture, and is independant of a woman’s choices.

    It’s the sex selection which is abhorrent, not a woman’s right to own her body.

  12. Forbidden Snowflake says

    I am not in favour of abortion, after all, do we not have enough contraceptives available?

    Since unwanted pregnancies still happen, the answer to that is obviously “no” (not enough contraceptives, not effective enough, not available enough…); however, how is the availability of contraceptives even relevant to whether abortion is justified?

    I am in principle against any killing animal or human, unless it is for nutrition (I hunt and fish) or in self defense.

    I see abortion as falling under the “self defense” category.

    I therefore cannot justify abortion to myself except in certain circumstances, i.e contraceptives not working,rape, the endangerment of the life of the mother or economic circumstances that would make the child unwanted.

    Most of the situations you have listed (or rather all of them, except for “the endangerment of the life of the mother”) don’t qualify either as “nutrition” or as “self defense”.
    Your position appears self-contradictory.

  13. Forbidden Snowflake says

    My opinion in a nutshell: you don’t fix a society which devalues women by screwing women over.

  14. Ruth says

    The problem is that you’re condemning the symptom, not the cause.

    Imagine that a government, in an attempt to redress the gender imbalance brought about by sex-selective abortion, were to impose a fine on every mother giving birth to a boy. To be consistent, you would have to declare that aborting boys in order to avoid the fine was wrong. Surely it is the fine that is the problem, not the response to it.

    The penalties suffered by women giving birth to girls in the cultures where sex-selective abortion is prevalent (and the penalties on the girls themselves) may not be financial, but they are no less real. These penalties are the problem, not the response to them.

    Either you are in favour of a woman’s right to choose, or you’re not. If you’re only in favour of her right to choose if you agree with her reasons for the choice, then you’re not in favour of HER right to choose, at all. If you believe that there are ANY circumstances in which a woman should be forced to continue with a pregnancy against her will, then you are anti-choice.

  15. kraut says

    “I see abortion as falling under the “self defense” category.”

    I agree and economic circumstances, rape, and pregnancy despite contraception fall to me under that category as well.
    Where is the contradiction?

    The right to choose should be done before pregnancy occurs. My wife and I have used birth control without resorting to abortion till her menopause. That was from 1971 to 2001. Fourty years after all.

  16. iknklast says

    As Stephanie has said, the problem isn’t so much sex-selective abortion as it is the devaluation of women in general. I can tell you from personal experience, however, that being a child who does not fit the paradigm of your parents preferences, if those preferences are strong enough that they don’t just blow them off and say “Aw, shucks”, then perhaps abortion is preferable to abuse.

    As long as society puts people into rigidly gendered categories, this will be an issue, and the moral argument isn’t against the selective abortion, but against the devaluation of women.

    This entire thing is a touchy issue, because the only way you can outlaw sex-selective abortion is by removing rights from the sex you are seeking to help, thereby creating a paradox of mammoth proportions. To do so would be to elevate the rights of “unborn” women above those of living, breathing women who may have some very trivial reasons for wanting a boy, but who might hold those reasons with a passion that will make them a worse mother for a girl than for a boy. Sort of makes the head spin, right? Yeah. Either way, it’s women who take it on the chin.

  17. alexandra14c says

    Well said, Ruth!

    Being pro-choice is about trusting women to make the correct choice for themselves.

  18. Dianne says

    Thought experiment for anyone who’s interested. Suppose you could somehow (don’t ask me how, let’s just call it “Clarkian magic” for the moment) tell which sex a baby would be prior to conception, i.e. could tell potential parents “If you have sex today you’ll conceive a boy/girl.” Assume for the purposes of the experiment that these are two people who want to have a baby, as soon as possible, with each other. Would you condemn their choice to not have sex tonight because they want a child of the other gender?

    I would postulate that if you answer “no” to the above, then, on some level, your problem is with abortion, not sex selection.

  19. says

    This is essentially my reaction, though Ruth below also says it well. The preference for some biological sex(es) over others is a symptom of a cultural / societal problem, and certainly has other immediate consequences for cognizant people (e.g. children coming of age). There being much better reasons to address the harmful attitude, our queasiness with selective abortion strikes me more as a footnote.

  20. Ben says

    Ah, this is a very difficult question:
    +Child could suffer from sex-based discrimination otherwise.
    -Still technically counts as sexism.
    +It’s the woman’s choice.
    +Hard to regulate anyway.

    So, I think we need to change the attitude that leads to this behaviour, and discourage it strongly, but it should still be allowed, I guess. And maybe, if a certain area has more men than women because of this, or vice versa, the men will be forced to leave if they actually want kids, so this strategy tends to break apart the communities that use it, at least if they’re immigrant-based. Could cause some sort of self-normalizing effect. Actually, to put a genetic spin on it, women would then have more children if more guys were born, selecting for genes to make even more women, neutralizing the attempts to artificially select for men anyway. Not that the idiots doing this sort of thing understand evolution like that.

  21. Dianne says

    Just to check…woman who is a carrier of an x-linked disease that can’t be diagnosed prenatally or can only be diagnosed by a third trimester ultrasound but will lead to a brief, horrible life for 50% of her sons. We’re all ok with her using sexual selection in the absence of any better way to tell which of her sons will die young and horribly, right?

  22. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    I agree with KG. Once abortion for sexual selection is outlawed, then other reasons for abortions would be outlawed until the fundies and Catholics dream of outlawing all abortions would be realized.

    I recognize I’ve made a slippery slope argument. However, considering the various excuses the anti-abortion fanatics use to restrict abortions, I don’t think it’s fallacious in this instance.

  23. Forbidden Snowflake says

    “I see abortion as falling under the “self defense” category.”

    I agree and economic circumstances, rape, and pregnancy despite contraception fall to me under that category as well.
    Where is the contradiction?

    The contradiction is your failure to provide a reson why you consider these situations as “self-defense”, and pregnancies that are unwanted for other reasons as “non-self-defense”.

    I think that removing something unwanted from one’s uterus is by definition self-defense: defense of one’s body from an invasion. You, on the other hand, think that the reason why it is unwanted determines whether the removal is self-defense or not, and I for the life of me can’t understand why.

    You seem to be claiming that being pregnant due to a birth control failure is a “self-defense” situation, while being pregnant due to carelessness is not. However, the potential consequences are the same as both situations, and thus it’s impossible for only one of these situation to warrant self-defense: either both do or neither does.

    The right to choose should be done before pregnancy occurs.

    Why? Because that’s what your strangely contradictory principles say?

    My wife and I have used birth control without resorting to abortion till her menopause. That was from 1971 to 2001. Fourty years after all.

    Good for you; how is that relevant to people who weren’t as lucky?

  24. Dianne says

    Basically, is there a rational way to say that these things are wrong without having to bring practicability into the argument?

    Maybe not. In some cases, the secondary effects are so severe and definite that you can’t look at the primary issue in isolation.

    To give an analogy in a different context: Suppose you (generic you, not crommunist or anyone else in particular) had a cancer that could be cured with bone marrow transplant, but which you would otherwise die of. Unfortunately, you had no matched siblings able to donate. Fortunately, you match a stranger in the marrow registry. Remember, people are in the bone marrow registry because they volunteered to be there. There is no such thing as getting drunk and accidentally getting registered to volunteer for marrow donation because you forgot the condom. It only happens because someone of sound mind intentionally volunteered to do it. Unfortunately, the person who volunteered changed his/her mind and now refuses to go through with it. S/he is perfectly healthy and has no particular reason for refusing-just changed his/her mind. Even worse, maybe s/he decided not to go through with it because you are black/white/other, male/female, gay/straight, jewish/christian/islamic/atheist, etc. In other words, because s/he doesn’t want to risk him/herself for one of “them”. Whoever “they” are.

    To me, that’s a serious asshole move. I consider it deeply immoral to back out on a promise to save someone’s life. And, often, it is the last chance the potential recipient has. They will die without it. And if there’s an element of -ism it’s even worse. Seriously, just wrong, deserving of shunning, hell, two thousand lives as a cockroach, mocking on facebook, whatever else.

    So, would it be right to force the donor to go through with it? Should it be illegal to refuse to donate after you’ve agreed to, unless there are extenuating circumstances? Should it be illegal to back out for the specific reason that the donor doesn’t like the recipient?

    I’d say no. The reason I say no is because the secondary consequences are so bad: The obvious one, of course, would be greater reluctance of people to donate. But I also don’t want to see ANY element of coercion ever become entwined with the donor system or any other part of the medical system. The ONLY time it’s permissible to force a patient to take treatment is when they’re not in their right mind, they’re going to die otherwise, and you have reason to believe that if they were in their right mind they’d want you to treat. So, no, for practical reasons because the practical reasons can’t be separated from the underlying theoretical issues.

  25. Beth says

    Interesting question. I find it repugnant myself, but will support a woman’s right to choose for whatever reason she has to make that choice.

    Suppose that it were possible to determine an unborn child would be gay or transexual. This assumes that such things are genetically preprogrammed and that we find the genetic markers that indicate such, but I don’t think either of those are unrealistic assumptions.

    How would you feel about parents who abort a child because they don’t want a gay or transexual child? The same? Or different? More repugnant or less than aborting a child because they want the other gender?

    I’ve been reading Natalie quite a bit lately, which I think is why this twist on the question occurred me. I’d be particularly interested to hear from gay or transexual people on this issue.

  26. Dianne says

    after all, do we not have enough contraceptives available?

    No. There are people for whom no available method of contraception is entirely appropriate. Besides, obviously, that no method is 100% effective. No, not even abstinence. Besides the obvious issue of rape, occasional pregnancies can occur without penetration.

    Perhaps you’d support research into better, more effective contraceptives? (Looks hopeful.)

  27. freemage says

    (I reserve the right to mock anyone who shows signs of only reading the first half or less of this post and replying in anger. Fair warning.)

    Let me put up a list on all the abortions I don’t think “should” happen:

    1: Abortions to avoid financial consequences of pregnancy/childcare.
    2: Abortions to conceal a pregnancy from parent/guardian figures who would react angrily (and possibly abusively) when made aware of their daughter’s sexual activity.
    3: Abortions to placate a father who does not wish to be burdened with child-care obligations (or, in some cases, to be exposed as a sexual abuser).
    4: Abortions based on the gender of the child.

    However, the best approach to causing these abortions to be reduced to anomalies (if not outright eliminated) is fairly plain:

    1: Provide proper medical and social networks to ease the financial burdens of unexpected pregnancy (and aggressively provide for contraceptive services, as well).
    2: Eliminate the culture that enables slut-shaming and encourages determining your worth as a human based on whether or not your child has sex before you want them to.
    3: Empower women to determine their own course in life, and offer them more and better ‘outs’ from abusive or controlling relationships.
    4: Create a society which values women as much as men, and thus girl-children as greatly as boy-children.

    Note that none of the above suggests a prohibitive approach–the best remedies are almost always preventative.

  28. Dianne says

    Suppose that it were possible to determine an unborn child would be gay or transexual. This assumes that such things are genetically preprogrammed and that we find the genetic markers that indicate such,

    The probability of a boy being gay is correlated with the number of older brothers he has. Suppose a couple decided to stop having more children because they had 3 boys and they were afraid the next one might be gay. You might think them stupid, but would anyone even remotely consider illegalizing such a decision? (Even leaving aside the near physical impossibility of doing so.)

  29. D'oh says

    Actually, in many of these cultures, the penalties imposed on a woman for having a girl are indeed financial. That’s a large part of the problem here and a strong motivator for female abortion.

    Many of these societies often have traditional practices that result in a girl being a net financial drain on the birth family. For example:

    –Horrendously expensive weddings that the bride’s family is expected to pay for
    –Large bride dowries which effectively transfer wealth from the bride’s family to the groom’s family
    –The expectation that sons will care for their parents in old age, not daughters. In traditional roles, women don’t make money that can funneled to their parents. And a daughter might be expected to provide caregiving for her in-laws, not her parents.

    All this means that it in a family’s best interest to have more sons than daughters.

  30. kraut says

    “The contradiction is your failure to provide a reson why you consider these situations as “self-defense”, and pregnancies that are unwanted for other reasons as “non-self-defense”.”

    I define self defense as any action taken to protect your physical, emotional or psychological integrity. Or shorter: any action to prevent harm to yourself.
    I thought that definition was somewhat self evident by the word self defense.

    Unwanted pregnancies due to lack of responsible sexual behaviour I find outrageously stupid and ignorant. Yes, one can have the fucking abortion if one wants it, but I find it personally disgusting to destroy a live (and a fetus is a-live, no matter how you turn it) because of ignorant stupidity.
    I reiterate – those are my views only, and I am glad abortions are not persecuted criminally under any conditions.
    I find some reasons to have an abortion more justifiable to myself than others.

    The main point however is my revulsion towards abortion used for gender selection. And others have made good points.

  31. Forbidden Snowflake says

    I define self defense as any action taken to protect your physical, emotional or psychological integrity. Or shorter: any action to prevent harm to yourself.

    By this definition, any abortion, if it isn’t forced, is self-defense, regardless of the reasons which lead to it. You are contradicting yourself again.

    I thought that definition was somewhat self evident by the word self defense.

    It is self-evident. The problem is that this principle obviously isn’t what guides your opinion on which abortions are acceptable.

    Yes, one can have the fucking abortion if one wants it, but I find it personally disgusting to destroy a live (and a fetus is a-live, no matter how you turn it) because of ignorant stupidity.

    Given the contradictions inherent in your position, and the tendency of your arguments to line up with the pregnancy-as-punishment approach*, I would say that some self-examination is warranted on your part before taking such a judgmental position.

    *that is, an approach which divides women in need of abortion into two groups: those who aren’t to blame for their situation (for varying definitions of blame: you consider carelessness with contraception to be blame, others believe that having consensual sex per se makes her guilty) and are therefor entitled to an abortion, and those who are to blame, and therefor should be punished by pregnancy. Needless to say, this approach doesn’t line up with concern for fetuses.

  32. Makoto says

    “but there were very few people who gave it the kind of blanket condemnation that I had initially approached it with.”

    I can’t give a blanket condemnation to the practice. I don’t think I would never sex-selective abort a child, or encourage someone to do so. If someone came to me to talk about a sex-selective abortion, I would listen, ask questions, and finally support them in their decision, whatever it might be, even if I disagreed with it.

    They aren’t me. I can’t condemn them for a decision for their abortion or their keeping of the fetus. I can wish upon a star all I want that it was me, that I would keep the fetus (if possible) in that case, or abort it, or whatever.

    “Basically, is there a rational way to say that these things are wrong without having to bring practicability into the argument?” – ultimately, I don’t think so. “Wrong” is a point of view. Anti-choice groups think any abortion is wrong in many cases, even if the mother would die with the fetus, and I disagree with them. I personally think sex-selective abortions are wrong, absent other factors, but that’s me. I won’t impose my point of view on a legal medical procedure on someone else. I can talk with them about it, try to encourage those thinking about pregnancy to first think about if it’s good to have a male or female child, and so on, but once the pregnancy is happening, such discussions are mostly moot. If the person is considering abortion, all I can do is discuss that with them, and at that point, it’s their morals/viewpoint that counts, not mine.

  33. Nepenthe says

    I am in principle against any killing animal or human, unless it is for nutrition (I hunt and fish) or in self defense.

    Uh, so is it okay for me to have an abortion, as long as I eat the fetus?

  34. says

    Well, damn.

    On the one hand, it’s her body, it’s her choice, and I don’t want to infringe on her rights.

    On the other, it’s… really quite disgusting, that some people would actively abort female fetuses (fetii?) just for having a XX set of chromosomes.

    I guess the only rational position I can take is to leave it to the individual. It’s not my place to decide for anyone else.

  35. says

    Oh man, does anyone else watch Clone High?

    Abe Lincoln: *drops a glass at his restaurant job*
    Napoleon: Around here, we eat our mistakes!
    Abe: But… it’s glass!
    Napoleon: Eat it! EAT IT! MANGEZ LA VERRE!

  36. says

    “Would you condemn their choice to not have sex tonight because they want a child of the other gender?”

    No, because their reproductive choices are THEIRS to make.

  37. says

    Not reading above yet, so you get raw thoughts.

    I think it is indeed wrong per se. It’s plain and simple sex discrimination; what other reason can there possibly be for preferring one foetus over another? (*) If you want a baby, but not a girl, you’re saying there’s something wrong with being a girl.

    However, it is a symptom, not a cause. There IS, in plain fact, a problem with being a girl in the world as it is today. The problem is not her, but how other people treat her, but it’s still a problem. Some women don’t want daughters who will suffer as they have. Some women are truly afraid that they will personally suffer for bearing a daughter. Some women totally buy into the patriarchy and don’t want a lesser being for a child, or do want one for a dress-up dolly after they’ve had several boys.

    Simply banning sex-selective abortion will only hurt those women more, and do nothing to change the underlying problem. Much like making abortion in general illegal – it doesn’t stop, it just goes underground and more people die. See today’s story about an Afghan woman who was murdered for the terrible social crime of giving birth to a third girl. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-16787534

    And, of course, abortion must always be a woman’s choice. Even if she chooses for what seems to me immoral or stupid reasons, it’s her right to control her own body that’s fundamental.


    (*) Medical reasons are a valid exception, of course. There are some terrible X-chromosome linked genetic disorders.

  38. says

    Sorry to disappoint, but I don’t think I’m going to give quite the blanket condemnation you are looking for. Although I will say that sex-selective abortion, particularly of females embryos, cannot possibly be performed in an ethical manner in 2012.

    My wife and I have two boys. My wife would really like a third and really like it to be a girl (she would have felt the same, in reverse, if we had two boys). Now, the odds of us getting a sex-selective abortion are probably effectively zero, but if we were considering it, what is the argument you would make against it? Unless you are going to ascribe partial personhood to the embryo, I really don’t see any arguments which do not rely heavily on cultural context.

    Of course, context matters, and that’s where you’ll get the most agreement from me. Any place where sex-selective abortions are performed, the vast majority of those aborted will be females. And that’s not just misogynistic, though it is certainly that: moreover, whenever there is an artificial gender imbalance in a population as a whole, the net result is bad for everybody, like really bad. So even though a particular individual might in theory want to abort a female embryo for reasons that have nothing to do with misogyny, it can’t really be done ethically against the background of the current cultural context. And I have difficulty making an argument that it is ethical for one gender and not for another.

    So probably, ultimately, I’m agreeing with you that it’s wrong. But the title of your post, although I recognize it’s supposed to lampoon my position, sums it up perfectly: No, I don’t think it’s wrong per se. I think it’s wrong contextually, and will be for the foreseeable future. But I don’t think it’s fundamentally wrong.

  39. says

    Also, of course, as others have pointed out, from a legal perspective of course it cannot be possibly be disallowed. Even if you tried to disallow it, as long as elective abortion is allowed (as it damn well better be!) then a person can always make up a different reason even if you try to ban certain reasons.

    I assumed the question was an ethical/moral one, not a legal one. The legal question is rather easily resolved, unless you are opposed to elective abortion, and I know nobody here is.

  40. says

    Side note: not everything immoral needs to be illegal. It’s usually immoral to cheat on your spouse, too. If there were social opprobrium against sex-selective abortions, that would be just peachy, thank you. We’re ever so slowly getting to social opprobrium against the homophobes, and I hope that increases, and that we can add social opprobrium against the sexists too.

  41. says

    @James Sweet, if girls and boys weren’t treated so ludicrously differently in the world today, why would you care how many of each you had? Yes, I can see it here and now, though it still bothers me, but definitely not in an ideal world. What, specifically, would she be looking for in a girl that she won’t find in a boy? Socially acceptable to dress in pink frilly clothes? What if the girl herself hates them? What if one of the boys likes them?

  42. Dianne says

    I define self defense as any action taken to protect your physical, emotional or psychological integrity.

    Pregnancy is always a life threatening condition. No matter how healthy and low risk the woman is before pregnancy. It’s always a risky undertaking. And not a risk that anyone should be forced to undergo.

  43. Pen says

    you’re not ready to be a parent…

    I wish that people who can’t see their way to parenting girls would also refrain from parenting boys. How the hell are they going to produce well-rounded male human beings starting with an attitude like that. Obviously, we don’t get to make that choice for them either, but…

  44. canadianchick says

    While I find it repugnant to practice sex selection (except in the case of sex-linked diseases, for example), I think we work to eliminate that thru education, not thru punishment.

    If we trust women to make reproductive decisions, then we have to trust them, period.

    My parents, BTW, practiced sex selection to get me. They had already adopted 2 boys, they wanted a girl. Took a lot longer (7 year age diff) in part due to changing adoption rates, but they finally got me @ 10 days old. I’m glad they did!

  45. Brian Lynchehaun says

    Rawls’ veil of ignorance is off the table for the same reason – you have to have the capacity to want something to factor into the decision-making process.

    This is incorrect.

    The ‘veil of ignorance’ test is always on the table, else we automatically exclude anyone without the mental capacity to make decisions. Like children (‘they’re too young to understand the ramifications of sex education’), and people with mental disabilities, and people with psychiatric difficulties, and… and… and… so on.

    Rawls’s veil of ignorance, however, does break down at abortion in general: if my future was entirely ahead of me, I would not wish to be aborted. It’s possible that there are some exceedingly rare circumstances where I’d be ok with being aborted (perhaps a case of being born with encephalitis, thus going to day in a matter of days after being born), but outside of a few specific examples, the veil of ignorance is an argument against abortion in general, I think.

    However, we can apply Rawls’s difference principle to this problem: men are advantaged in society compared to women. Does the abortion based on foetus being female increase this distance: I believe so, yes. Therefore it’s unjust.

    Interestingly, if we reverse this, abortion based on the foetus being male may not be unjust (on this principle).

  46. Happiestsadist says

    That’s kind of the thing. I don’t see how bringing a profoundly unwanted child whose parents resent its existence based on its gender is in any way a humane option.

    And the whole thing of if you support a woman’s right to abortion access, you don’t get to choose their reasons.

  47. Happiestsadist says

    Okay, from someone queer and on the trans spectrum: I don’t get a say about why any pregnant person might want to end the pregnancy. Transphobia and anti-gay bigotry won’t be solved by forcing women to give birth against their wills. It’s conflating of the cause and a symptom.

  48. kimulrick says

    I was reading an article a while back about sex-selection via IVF. Here is another article about the same thing.

    Sex-selection via IVF was (I couldn’t find any news about it changing yet) illegal in Australia, so people are going overseas to do it instead.

    The other article I read mentioned that most people who do it, do it to have a child of the opposite sex to the one the have and it is more often done to get a girl.

    So if you take out the abortion factor, how do you feel about it?

    Alethea H. Claw says:

    @James Sweet, if girls and boys weren’t treated so ludicrously differently in the world today, why would you care how many of each you had? Yes, I can see it here and now, though it still bothers me, but definitely not in an ideal world. What, specifically, would she be looking for in a girl that she won’t find in a boy? Socially acceptable to dress in pink frilly clothes? What if the girl herself hates them? What if one of the boys likes them?

    Why do you care about having children at all? There are already plenty of people in the world, and plenty of kids to adopt if you must have one to raise yourself. The decision to get pregnant and have a baby is irrational, and is rooted in emotion. Wanting a girl and a boy can be an extension of the idea of “I want a little version of myself”.

    For the record, I don’t approve of sex-selection based in the idea of men being better than women, but that issue is with the idea, not with the sex-selection itself.

  49. kimulrick says

    Crom says:

    Even still, the part of my brain that tells me right from wrong sends up big warning signs about selecting against sex or race or other physical features.

    In physical features, do you include physical features that could cause a problem (e.g. no legs)? Or just benign things like eye colour?

  50. F says

    I’ll more or less stick with my answer from last time. I think selection for sex is a violation of gender equality. Abortion that violates gender equality will probably fade in cultures where the natural rights of women are enforced.

    So what about sex selection in vitro? My view is that it would still be wrong if driven by sexism.

  51. says

    @kimulrick, I don’t have kids and don’t want to. “I want to have a family” may well be irrational and emotional – though maybe not, since we are not robots. I think it is rational to promote our happiness by acknowledging and dealing appropriately with our emotions.

    But whatever, I will grant the premise. Even if irrational, the desire to have babeez with your truelove is totally understandable and normal. Lots of people have it. Non-hetero couples and infertile couples very often have it too, even though it gets extra-difficult for them. I don’t knock it, even if I don’t share it. Go for it.

    However, anyone wanting to have kids as “a little version of themselves” is on a direct path to fuck up at least one person’s life, and quite possibly more. Kids are other people who are NOT you or your spouse, and trying to make them over into mini-you is going to be an emotionally abusive and mostly doomed process. It’s a very bad idea.

  52. Ysanne says

    A bit different angle…

    An abortion is not a happy and beautiful experience that one would want to have just for the fun of it, or for any trivial reason.

    Firstly, because it’s not fun to have someone poke or scrape around in your womb (seriously, the quick act of getting an IUD in feels bad enough already), and the cramps, bleeding and pain that are the side effects of the abortion pill aren’t great either. There is also the risk of complications and the possibility of fertility problems later on.

    And secondly, for some (many?) women, there is a strong emotional component to having a little parasite inside them that has the potential to develop into a person, in particular when it already looks somewhat baby-like. Destroying that potential by having the abortion can feel bad — a thought like “this could have been my baby if I had let it” isn’t rational, but also not exactly unheard of.

    This kind of emotion — sadness about a potential for a new human life which then wasn’t realised — is also pretty common in people other than the pregnant woman. A foetus is alive after all, it’s just not quite a viable, conscious human being yet, and there’s nothing wrong with feeling sorry when it doesn’t go on to become one. The wrongness starts when a foetus is confused with an actual baby, and is attributed rights at the expense of its mother’s right to her own body.

    Thirdly, having an abortion still carries lots of social stigma.

    .
    So in total, you’d expect someone getting an abortion to have reasons that are good enough to make up for all this associated crap.

    Obviously “otherwise dead”, “life seriously fucked up” and other major-impact reasons qualify as good reasons.

    (Whereas “couldn’t be bothered to use contraception” doesn’t, because in this case abortion is a painful fix for a mess that could have been easily avoided to begin with. And I think it is completely ok to consider someone who lives their live this way an idiot.)

    But when “the child would be a girl” is a good enough reason to have it aborted, it implies that having a daughter instead of a son is so horrible that even having an abortion is more fun — and that’s one of the harshest possible ways of saying “women are worthless”. I think that’s why the whole thing feels so wrong.

  53. Tony says

    Ruth:

    Either you are in favour of a woman’s right to choose, or you’re not. If you’re only in favour of her right to choose if you agree with her reasons for the choice, then you’re not in favour of HER right to choose, at all.

    -You’ve just summed up my thoughts. It took a bit of discussion with a friend and a little bit of thought. Initially, I was leaning toward sex selective abortion being wrong, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I fully, 100% support the right for a woman to choose. Despite my reservations about sex selective abortion (I do agree it doesn’t feel ‘right’), ultimately the rights of a woman are more important.

  54. Ruth says

    Seconded.

    Also, would anyone condemn the woman’s decision in any of the first three circumstances? Then why should anyone condemn it in the fourth?

  55. Ruth says

    You know what’s been bugging me about this? The most annoying thing about the whole idea?

    Mysogyny is a bad thing. Women being treated as sub-human, to the point where a woman is expected to go through an abortion to avoid producing a copy of her disgusting, sub-human self, rather than a copy of her divine husband/owner, is apalling.

    So why does it only become a problem when it gets to the point where it starts to hurt those divine men, by leading to a gender imbalance so severe that there aren’t enough sub-human sex-slaves to go round?

  56. opposablethumbs, que le pouce enragé mette les pouces says

    Ultimately, nothing trumps the right to bodily autonomy – my (or your/her) uterus, my (your/her) choice. One may disagree with or lament the reasons, but the person with the embryo inside them is the only one who gets to make the choice – one may discuss one’s disagreement, of course, but one does not get to impose one’s own preference.

    Whereas “couldn’t be bothered to use contraception” doesn’t, because in this case abortion is a painful fix for a mess that could have been easily avoided to begin with. And I think it is completely ok to consider someone who lives their live this way an idiot.

    If you ever come across one of the vanishingly tiny number of these particular strawpeople, by all means consider them an idiot. But it won’t be very easy to find them in among all the vast numbers of people worldwide who are denied access to sex-ed, denied access to contraception that works, denied the right to decide whether or not we use contraception right now because he doesn’t like condoms … not to mention denied the right to decide whether or not to have sex.

    I’m not saying you won’t ever find a single person anywhere in the world who “can’t be bothered” – just that they are an irrelevance (and basically strawmanning) in the face of the huge numbers who would use contraception if they could get it but are actively prevented from doing so by family/religious and/or legal prohibition/poverty/slut-shaming etc etc etc.

    Oh, and re the OP – many of the posters above have nailed it: sex-selective abortion is the symptom, not the cause. The only effective and ethical way to have any effect on this in those societies where sex-selective abortion is common is to increase the social status and autonomy of women.

  57. Ruth says

    To all those still condemning sex-selective abortion as ‘immoral’, I think you’ve let the pro-life rhetoric get to you. You’re thinking in terms of the foetus having a ‘right to life’, which has to be weighed against the woman’s right to bodily autonomy.

    The thing is, it isn’t actually anyone’s right to life that’s in question. It’s the right of one person (assuming, for sake of argument, that we do consider the foetus a person) to make use of another person’s body without that person’s consent.

    Put that way, it makes it clear that pregnancy and childbirth are just like sex; consent is paramount.

    If someone doesn’t want to have sex with someone else, it doesn’t matter what that person’s reasons are, what matters is that they don’t want to have sex with this person, at this time. Even if it’s because they are bigoted against the other person for some reason, that doesn’t give the other person the right to over-rule their refusal. Didn’t Donald Trump try to sue a woman for age-discrimination because the reason she gave for refusing sex with him was that he was too old? Does anyone think that she was morally wrong to refuse sex with him?

    No one has a moral obligation to have sex with anyone else, not even with a member of an oppressed class.

    Likewise, no woman has a moral obligation to gestate and give birth to anyone else, not even a member of an oppressed class.

  58. Ruth says

    Going back to the example of the potential bone marrow donar. Donations like this are seen as a positive moral act. Do they suddenly become negative if the donar is bigoted about who they will donate to? Is someone who refuses to donate to someone they disapprove of, and therefore allows that person to die, somehow LESS moral than someone who refuses to donate to anyone at all, and therefore allows a person to die?

    We can condemn the bigotry itself as immoral, but if we condemn the act of refusal itself, then we have to condemn all such acts of refusal.

  59. Staceyjw says

    I believe that a woman has the right to bodily autonomy, which means the right to abortion, period.

    I think the issue is that people can, and do, use their reproductive freedom in ways others find to be morally despicable. That’s a consequence of freedom.

    There is nothing wrong with finding some reasons to abort horrible, so long as you aren’t actively looking to ban abortion based on what is, basically, a personal opinion. Its OK to say “I don’t like it”, or, “I think its wrong”, as this is different than saying “You aren’t allowed!”. Sometimes, an action may be immoral (to an individual), but still be legal, like drinking for Mormons, or eating pork for Muslims.

  60. Gunter Phinser says

    Technically I guess you could consider having a female baby to be as bad as having a midget or a kid with down syndrome. Then I could understand wanting an abortion. But either way you could still end up screwed if the kid turned out to be a fruit. You just don’t “know” until you “know” so it’s probably better to adopt…

  61. Loui says

    Martin: “You start off by condemning gender selection, then slowly you’ll add other genetic traits and eventually slut-shame all abortions.”

    Bad argument is bad. If you start allowing men to legally have sex with each other soon you’ll be allowing humans to have sex with animals and children!

    It doesn’t work that way.

    You may as well argue that allowing the abortion of girl foetuses could lead to allowing the infanticide for girl babies.

    Supporting or not condemning sex-selective abortion (for cultural or non-medical reasons) is bad because it is permissive of valuing one sex of human life over another. And that is wrong. In this case it is misogynistic.

  62. says

    I think you’re putting the cart before the horse here by concentrating on the abortion part of the problem.
    As Stephanie said, the problem is with misogyny, patriarchy and people seeing their offspring as fucking custom made reborn dolls.
    Yes, I see something inhererently wrong with actively trying to get baby X where X is not “healthy”.
    Not because there’s something wrong with X, but because there’s something wrong with wanting to model your child in a certain way.
    It’s a symptom of people who are not ready to deal with an autonomous person called “child”.
    I’m not saying that you might not “wish” for something, like a girl*, a boy, daddy’s eyes, mum’s hair, grandma’s good teeth (only after she passed away, of course).

    But, as others have said, abortion is the symptom. It might be reprehensible, but any alternative except changing society and attitudes would be worse. No woman in this world will be helped if she is forced to carry a baby-girl to term, especially not said baby-girl who now is a person with needs.

    *Full disclosure: I wanted a girl. I got one. I think for #2 my husband would have liked a son. But that doesn’t mean that he didn’t gladly take a wonderful second daughter. Both of us would have been even happier if the child hadn’t been born with a birth-defect.

  63. David Hart says

    At the risk of wading late into a shitstorm, is the solution to this sort of problem not going to be legal / tax-based?

    If we
    a) outlaw dowry payments (as they have done in India)
    b) actually enforce that law (as they don’t seem to be so good at)
    c) mandate equal pay for equal work
    d) mandate equal education provision – indeed, have compulsory education up to the same age for boys and girls

    then that’s a start, but we would probably also need to do some sort of affirmative action, like

    e) provide a tax incentive to raise girls that is not available for boys
    f) provide a tax incentive or other financial reward for adopting girls – this means that female infants stand a chance of being raised by someone, rather than left to starve
    g) actually have quotas for women entering the professions, so that every parent of girls knows that there is actually a slightly increased chance of their child becoming a doctor, lawyer, etc

    And also, perhaps irrational-sounding, but may be of use

    h) change the legal system of passing on names, so that every couple at marriage adopt each other’s surname in some sort of double-barreled fashion, and when those couples have children, the children grow up with both names and, crucially, when their children in turn grow up and marry, they keep their mother’s half of the surname if they are a girl and take on their husband’s half-of-surname that he got from his father (or vice versa). I’ve heard it expressed that the desire to have a child who will carry on your family name is among the factors motivating people to want male children.

    Also, regarding dowries and expensive weddings, and intimidation related to such things, I’m given to understand that societies in which women leave their family home on marriage to go and live with their husband are noticeably worse for women than societies where men leave their family home to go and live with their wives. Of course it is hard to change a culture, but possibly tax incentives could provide a nudge here too – an extra tax on women from outside the family living in the house, and/or a tax break on men from outside the family moving in.

    All of which is deeply interventionist, but if you want to avoid a society with armies of resentful, no-hope-of-marriage young males, then sometimes the government has to do something about it.

  64. Ysanne says

    I’m not saying you won’t ever find a single person anywhere in the world who “can’t be bothered” – just that they are an irrelevance (and basically strawmanning) in the face of the huge numbers who would use contraception if they could get it but are actively prevented from doing so by family/religious and/or legal prohibition/poverty/slut-shaming etc etc etc.

    Complete agreement on that.

    I deeply resent that popular “but we must prevent these irresponsible women from using abortion as their regular method of birth control” argument, exactly because there are very few women stupid enough to do this to themselves.

    My point was about the arguments along the lines of “If you support women’s access to abortion, you don’t get to choose their reasons.” — which is true. But this doesn’t mean one can’t have an opinion about the reasons for which one would or wouldn’t get an abortion.

  65. Timid Atheist says

    I have to say I’m with you on this one Crommunist. The only time I’ve heard of aborting when the sex of the child isn’t what is wanted is in places like the Middle East, China or India where female children are undesirable. And most of the time the women choose it because otherwise they will be treated horribly by their husbands for having a girl child. Or the child will be abandoned (i.e. left to die) after it’s born and really, what kind of life is that for a baby?

    But I’m not against the abortion for sex selection so much as I’m against the reason for it. As Ms. Zvan pointed out up toward the beginning, I hate the reason, not the practice.

  66. Dianne says

    I would say that yes, it is more immoral to volunteer and then withdraw consent because of disapproval of the recipient* than to not volunteer at all. The reason is that by volunteering you have given the potential recipient a false hope and let them know that there is someone out there who could help them but refuses to do so. Of course, a fetus has no self-awareness and no ability to feel hope and despair, so that aspect is not relevant for the example of abortion.

    *Or indeed for any reason other than change in health status. If you don’t intend to go through with it, just don’t even get involved.

  67. ash says

    you also need to consider that the selective abortion phenomenon comes from the “one child per family” policy China has. Fair or not, it is the kind of policy we will have to implement globally if we are going to survive. That’s another heavy issue there. How are we going to fairly regulate reproduction when it becomes a matter of life and death (it already is in many places)to start driving down birth rates globally.

  68. Dianne says

    Another random thought on the issue, this time on the pro-banning side: Countries with lots of young men and nothing much for them to do tend to find something for them to do. Like, say, starting a war. India and China both have lots of extra young men and old grievances. India and China both have nukes. Maybe the overall greater good is on the side of giving the young men more opportunities to, um, make love not war.

    Of course, if (many) people in India or China are determined to have boys, they’ll just commit infanticide or “oopsy” infanticide (who knew that putting a baby face down on a pillow was dangerous?) anyway so maybe banning sex selective abortion won’t help anything anyway.

    Then too this analysis seems to sacrifice women’s rights and lives for men’s needs and desires. Why should women be forced to bear children they don’t want and act as sex toys for men just because men can’t control their violence otherwise?

    Nonetheless, societies with lots of young men do go to war more often and two nuclear powers going to war is…bad.

  69. Beth says

    First of all, let me state that I quite agree that it is the woman’s choice whether or not to bear a child. But individuals making the right choices for themselves does not always translate into the best outcome for their society.

    I phrased my question badly because the answers (thank you Dianne and Happiestsadist) are answering the question I actually asked instead the question I meant to ask. My apologies for my muddled question.

    Let me try again.

    The current places where sex selection is considered a problem are also places where overpopulation is a problem. So, in one sense, I think this trend might help stabilize their populations at a sustainable numbers. There is no danger of eliminating one gender all together.

    However, suppose that it were possible to determine an unborn child would be gay or transexual. This assumes that such things are genetically preprogrammed and that we find the genetic markers that indicate such, but I don’t think either of those are unrealistic assumptions.

    If this were the case, a trend may well develop to abort gay or trans children before they are born. It would mean gay and trans people would be even more of a minority. If the technology were available cheaply and world-wind, such deviations from the norm might be eliminated altogether.

    How do gay and trans people feel about that possibility?

    It would make me sad because I enjoy the gay people who are in my life and value them highly. But I cannot deny that their lives seem more difficult than those of straight people. I think it is due mainly, perhaps entirely, to our culture, but it’s the culture we live in and our babies our born into.

    So I can understand why even parents who are not prejudiced against gays would prefer to raise straight children if they had the ability to make such a choice. Gay people suffer a great deal of prejudice in our society and their pool of potential mates is much smaller. The possibility of grandchildren is also significantly reduced. But I feel that a world without gays would be less than optimum.

    Transsexuals are a more difficult question for me because they often have such unhappy lives. They must deal with the consequences of either staying a sex that doesn’t fit them quite right or transitioning to the other gender with all the complex issues that entails.

    Would aborting a transexual child be more like aborting a child with Down’s syndrome, sparing themselves and the child a difficult life, or would it be more like aborting a female child because they wanted a boy?

  70. Ruth says

    What if someone withdrew simply because they had changed their mind? Would that be immoral? It would have the same effect on the other people involved as withdrawing because of bigotry.

    My point is that it should be the act and its (expected) consequences that is seen as moral or immoral, not the individual’s reasons for performing that act.

    We can judge the person as moral/immoral based on their reasoning, but not the act.

  71. Medivh says

    Eugenics is wrong – that’s where your red flags are coming from. However, forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy to term for any reason is also wrong. Which devil shall we deal with?

    The problem of sex selection abortions can be solved, as I believe you said in the previous post, with education and making women (and therefore girls) valued equally in the communities that are getting these abortions. While that’s taking effect, there’s not much that can be done without taking away women’s rights in one way or another. I’m sure I don’t have to elaborate on the intersection between race and gender in this regard either, given the rhetoric that’s been flying around on this topic.

    From this, I think it follows pretty closely that completely free access to abortion is the greatest good, or at least the least bad – it’s a tool that frees women from some opressions whilst making eugenic horsefuckery easier to do. Restricting abortion doesn’t mean that the social situation that gives rise to the eugenic horsefuckery goes away though, it just takes away one tool of enforcement.

  72. stripey_cat says

    Beth, I think the assumption that gender selection is the result of overcrowding is mistaken. As a classical historian I’d associate it (admittedly infanticide/selective rearing rather than abortion, because they couldn’t test for sex pre-natally) with dowry cultures, especially where the financial burden on a woman’s family was high (ie where dowries were expected to be a significant proportion of the families’ total assets rather than a token payment).

    Your argument about sexual preference is one I’d see as a false dichotomy: gay people only suffer because of cultural factors, as do women. If we change the culture, we improve their lot. Until we change the culture, they will continue to be seen as undesirable, and abortion may well still be preferable to (post-natal) abuse.

  73. ed says

    The question has pretty much nothing to do with abortion. If we had the technology to pre-select what the embryo will be before conception the same issue would presumably still bother you, so I think it’ll be better if you remove the abortion part from the question so that people (including yourself) will not have emotional jerk reactions.

    And no, I don’t see anything wrong with choosing e.g. what color eyes you’d like your baby to have or what sex you’d like it to have or how long you’d like it’s legs to be. There might be some tension between what you want to see in the baby and what the society would want to see and that may require some incentives here and there. E.g. if everyone spontaneously decided to have girls/boys only, we, i.e. the society, would probably want to incentivise production of the opposite sex babies, out of self-preservation.

    However if everyone spontaneously decided to have blue-eyed babies only – it’ll probably be irrelevant for the society and so no tension => no more brown eyes.

  74. says

    I think the only reason sex selection looks wrong is because of certain tendencies to prefer children of one gender. I don’t see what’s wrong with someone thinking I had a boy last time, so I only want a girl this time.

  75. stripey_cat says

    Dianne, the problem with forcing birth of girls goes beyond selective infanticide. Even when girls are reared (in the cultures under discussion), they are less likely to survive to adulthood, less likely to recieve medical attention, less likely to be educated etc. If they survive to marriage, they are simultaneously high-value commodities and low-autonomy agents. If their parents can’t supply a respectable dowry, they lose the little protection that their economic value gives them, and thus they’re more likely to be raped and abused than their brothers, within both their birth family and their marriage family. We can’t solve this problem from the reproductive rights end.

  76. thaismcrc says

    “Fair or not, it is the kind of policy we will have to implement globally if we are going to survive.”

    Uh, no. There is no situation in which controlling people’s reproductive choices like that is acceptable. It’s like saying, the world is overpopulated, so we’ve decided to start forcing people to commit suicide as part of public policy. We don’t do that because we agree that the right to life is basic and must be protected. Reproductive rights are just as fundamental and can’t be simply discarded. Furthermore, fertility rates have reduced dramatically in all developed countries without the need of that type of legislation. When women have access to higher education, better employment opportunities, contraception and legal abortion, they have less children – usually, below replacement levels.

  77. Forbidden Snowflake says

    Martin: “You start off by condemning gender selection, then slowly you’ll add other genetic traits and eventually slut-shame all abortions.”

    Bad argument is bad. If you start allowing men to legally have sex with each other soon you’ll be allowing humans to have sex with animals and children!

    It doesn’t work that way.

    Actually, your analogy is what doesn’t work.

    The argument about homosexuality makes an unwarranted extrapolation, since acceptance of homosexuality does not remove the principle of “consenting adults” underlying acceptable sexual behavior.

    On the other hand, condemnation of sex-selective abortion does violate the “her body, her choice” principle underlying the pro-abortion position.

    You may as well argue that allowing the abortion of girl foetuses could lead to allowing the infanticide for girl babies.

    Nope, there is no way to make infanticide follow from the “her body, her choice” principle.

    Supporting or not condemning sex-selective abortion (for cultural or non-medical reasons) is bad because it is permissive of valuing one sex of human life over another.

    Guess what? This “valuing one sex of human life over another” is already happening, and it’s the reason why sex-selective abortion is even a thing. Trying to eliminate sex-selective abortion by restricting the rights of the party ALREADY AT THE BOTTOM of the misogyny food-chain is bury-your-head-in-the-sand absurd.

  78. Dianne says

    Even when girls are reared (in the cultures under discussion), they are less likely to survive to adulthood, less likely to recieve medical attention, less likely to be educated etc.

    That seems to me to be effectively infanticide or at least child murder. There’s something of a catch-22 situation going on: girls are undervalued and so people don’t have them, the very scarcity of girls makes them be seen even more as commodities than people, reducing even further the chances of improving equality. I’ve heard people argue against sex selective abortion using the argument that there need to be more girls for more equality to occur. Maybe, but who’s ready to allow their daughter to be the sacrificial child?

  79. Dianne says

    What if someone withdrew simply because they had changed their mind? Would that be immoral?

    Sorry, I thought I’d said in my earlier comment: Yes, that would be immoral. If you don’t want to volunteer, don’t volunteer, but don’t back out after finding out that you’re someone’s only hope of survival. Note that generally by the time you are contacted, the patient knows a match has been found so you’re dangling the possibility of survival in front of them then removing it. This consideration does not apply to a fetus so it’s irrelevant to the abortion debate: As far as I’m concerned, stopping a pregnancy before it is completed is the moral equivalent of never having started it.

  80. charlesbartley says

    No system can catch all of the special cases, and trying to just bogs them down with rules that won’t work completly, and that have unintended side effects that are often as bad as what they are trying to prevent.

    The key is to find the right balance point. The more complex the ethical issue, the more important it is that the decision/evaluation is done as close to the concerned parties, and with as much flexibility and knowledge of individual circumstances as possible. To do otherwise imposes injustices on those individuals. It also allows those individuals to make decisions that I think are wrong, or otherwise evil. There is no way around this. The rules of the system MUST focus on workability, and on the practicalities of implementation. They can’t ignore this in pursuit of an ideal.

    I hate the whole idea of sex selective abortions, but as others have said, there are two parts there: Sex selective and abortions. You can’t legislate what goes into the desire for the sex selective part. You can only fight for the feminist ideals of true equality for women.

    You can’t even really legislate the abortion part. Sure you can make laws, but all they do is push women into back alley abortions with a higher mortality rate. This outcome should be abhorent to anyone (and I am honestly baffled by those that don’t think that this matters.)

    I personally believe that at some point in the second/third trimesters, when we get to a point of viability, that there is a new person besides the mother that needs to be considered. At that point, the only abortions I would personally allow would be those for the health of the mother. I would decide that the fully realized mother’s rights trump the baby’s and would save the mother–but I don’t think that you can deny that the baby has rights. Before then, I think it is solely the mother’s rights that need to be considered.

    This is just my belief. Others can and do disagree with me. Fine. If you think that personhood begins at conception, then you are welcome to not abort in any circumstance. If you are a mother who has to choose between your life and your babies’, then you should be able to chose to save your baby. You should NEVER be forced to either outcome by an external party. It just isn’t their decision to make.

    Legislation can NEVER make a good, just, *workable* universal system for this. We have to leave it to the conscience of the mother. And we need to make sure that she has the education and support systems to make that choice on her own. (As I write this, I want to be very clear that I am 100% against the “informed content” laws that attempt to bully women out of the decision with lies and distortions).

    Charles

  81. Ruth says

    I don’t think Beth suggested that sex-selective abortion was the result of overcrowding, just that the two seem to go together. The common element is a patriarchal culture, which views children, along with women, as assets of their male owner, and so the more children (and in some cases, wives) the better.

  82. Happiestsadist says

    I think the answer I gave still applies. Any reason a pregnant person has for aborting a pregnancy is a good one. Even if I think it’s based on being a bigot. I’d rather not subject an LGBT kid to that kind of shitty person as a parent.

  83. Martin says

    The slippery slope is right in front of you, and by supporting the ban of abortions because the foetus is XX (a chromosomal condition) then what is to stop abortion opponents banning trisomy-21 abortions, then any other of the anaploidy defects?

    It is the woman’s body and her choice, even if the reason for her choice is reeks of mysogynism.

  84. says

    I personally believe that at some point in the second/third trimesters, when we get to a point of viability, that there is a new person besides the mother that needs to be considered. At that point, the only abortions I would personally allow would be those for the health of the mother.

    A few years ago, the European Union wanted to regulate the size and characteristics of helicoper landings near hospitals.
    Not only would their regulation have closed down most of them because they weren’t big enough, also, as people pointed out, there had never been a single serious accident at a hospital helicopter landing.
    Why am i telling this?
    The prallel is this: The EU wanted to regulate something where there was no reason why regulation would be needed.
    The same question arises here: Is there actually a need for regulation in that area?
    Are there actually women seeking third semester abortions for non-medical reasons? (btw, you’re actually forgetting the area that late-term abortions often happen not because there’s a danger for the woman, but because there’s something seriously wrong with the fetus. Limiting abortions to “life of the mother” would cause a hell lot of pain and suffering.)
    The “third trimester abortion of a healthy fetus of a healthy woman” really seems like one of those emotionally charged straw-fetuses of the pro-life movement

  85. Art says

    Abortion is legal, or not. It is also under the control of the woman, or not.

    Make that conditional and you are, in essence, no different than any other anti-abortion crusader. The difference is that you place the line in one place, sex selection, and they place it in a different location, never. I’m not much on all-or-nothing thinking but you either trust a woman to control her own body and to make the right decision or you don’t.

    Of course there are differences in degree between legal banning of abortion for any particular reason and abortion for distinctions you may feel are unreasonable but allow you only limited interference. Simply talking to a woman you are friends with to try to change her mind is generally allowed. If abortion used for sex selection bothers you you have every right to talk to an female acquaintance you happen to know is contemplating such a move.

    But this has to be placed into a context where you have no right to know if a woman is planning an abortion, no right to know why she is having an abortion, and no right to know if a woman has had an abortion. If you just happen to be on sufficiently intimate terms with a woman that she intimates that she is thinking of having an abortion for the purposes of sex selection then you then have every right to express your concern and outrage. To try to talk her out of it if she will allow.

    She, of course, doesn’t IMO have to allow you to debate teh issue and has every right, even after disclosing such intimate detail of what and why she is planning to have an abortion, to tell you to STFU and get out of her face. Failure to comply in some nominal way may constitute assault and subject you to arrest.

  86. says

    Interesting thought experiment; I’m trying to parse out my thoughts on this. I, personally, would have a girl as my first (and possibly only) child if I could choose. I’d have no problem taking effective measures to ensure that I conceived a girl, if such things existed. However, I’d never even consider aborting a boy fetus once conceived.

    I think the difference is in what level of personhood you ascribe to a fetus. If you allow it absolutely zero personhood until born, then it makes no sense to condone pre-conception sex-selection but not sex-selective abortion. If you allow it full personhood, then you’d probably abortion altogether unless the mother’s life is threatened. At this point in my life, I ascribe partial personhood to a fetus, depending on the gestational age, so to me terminating an already-existing fetus once sex has been determined is different from predetermining a characteristic of the fetus I’m going to produce.

    Which maybe is a longer way of saying exactly what you said.

  87. says

    Personally, I see it from a different perspective:
    I do have certain wishes for my children.
    I admit that there are things that would disappoint me.
    I do take steps to prevent that.
    I would be horribly disappointed if all my attempts to teach them critical thinking resulted in two catholic nuns.
    I’d love to see them grow into strong women, hope that they go to college one day.
    But I also acknowledge that it’s not my life, not my decision. I have to accept what they make of it.
    I can try to influence those things, but not control them.
    That’s why I see attempts to control everything about your child as a sign of a wrong attitude about parenting.

  88. lapidarion says

    I understand that the veil of ignorance is a thought experiment, but I have a problem with personifying a part of someone’s body without their direction. Since a z/e/f is a body part that can become a separate person, I feel like it makes sense to allow pregnant individuals to define themselves as having another person inside, but it’s really up to them what their pregnancies means, including the social and legal ramifications.

    Since fetuses are sedated and anesthetized through the moment of birth, I’m also having a problem with your argument about mental capacity. Like maybe there’s a difference in kind between your examples and the mental capacity of fetuses. The people you mentioned have the ability to want things—and to have some understanding of the world around them—whereas fetuses . . . not so much. I don’t think it’s meaningful to imagine a fetus wanting something or making a choice, no matter how ill-informed. Which also goes back to the personification problem.

  89. Dianne says

    One point that struck me in the link you gave is that two people appear to have participated in strangling the victim. The man involved was allowed to escape. The woman was caught and people are calling for her punishment. Gee, how could anyone in a society like that think that being born female is a detriment?

  90. says

    In many areas, even where abortions are legal, there are limititations on availability. Women must be shown an ultrasound, women must receive counseling, here in PEI, women must have permission from 2 doctors. All of tehse are rightly seen as putting limitations on a women’s right to her own body. To suggest that sex-selection is a reason to refuse an abortion puts another barrier in place. It would require every woman seeking an abortion to be asked the reason she is seeking that procedure. Only women who actually answered that question with a response that indicated gender-selection wold be refused or penalized.

  91. says

    I don’t think people should abort based on gender. I also don’t think people should get pregnant to try to “keep” a man or improve their failing marriage. But I don’t have the right to force someone to take birth control because I find their reasoning for getting pregnant, immoral or unreasonable.

    I have a real problem with looking at two women, who are in the same stage of their pregnancy, with the same general level of personal risk and saying that one woman’s abortion is the right kind of abortion and one woman’s abortion is the wrong kind. While doctors may counsel a woman and try to educate her, the doctor’s primary responsibility it to his or her patient. If that patient came to the doctor for an abortion for any other reason, and it would be granted then declining to give the abortion because of her motive is unethical. Just as the doctor shouldn’t decline to treat a woman because the doctor believes she is getting pregnant for the wrong reason, a doctor shouldn’t decline to treat a woman because the doctor believes she is aborting for the wrong reason.

    Access to abortion should not be about making moral judgements on a woman. People make acceptable decisions for bad reasons, all the time, but abortion is about the right of a woman to refuse to carry to term a pregnancy she doesn’t want. Period. This is separate from whether or not you consider her justification for her abortion a good one.

    A good parallel might be Steve Jobs and his decision to forego cancer treatment when it was first detected. He has the right to refuse treatment even if his decision to forego treatment is a bad one. There are other cases where declining treatment may be the best option, for instance, if treatment will be quite painful and debilitating with very little chance for an increase in quantity or quality of life. You have the right, either way, to make the choice, whether or not it’s a good one is irrelevant.

  92. says

    I believe that sex-selective abortion is wrong. Two wrongs do not make a right, though — it is equally wrong for me to attempt to stop the person having an abortion for whatever reason they choose; further, we cannot introduce these limits without opening the door for antichoicers to squeak in bullshit limits, and we cannot assert a right forcibly inspect women’s private lives to determine whether they are “worthy” of an abortion (we already have way more than enough of this problem with rape victims).

    To quote Trudeau, “the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.” Discriminatory views, like religion, will inevitably exist at the level of ‘personal hobby’ — let’s make sure they stay there.

Trackbacks

  1. […] So. Sex selective abortion. The antis have been posting a lot about it lately. And I’ve yet to see many pro-choice responses, though I’d like to boost the ones that I have come across: Alexis Beckett at Girl on the Wing, Tara Paterson writing in to the Toronto Star, Pedgehog at Anti-Choice is Anti-Awesome, Johanna Westeson at IntLawGrrls, Dr. Dawg at Dawg’s Blawg. [UPDATE, January 31st, 2012: an open discussion hosted by Crommunist] […]

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