Women's Rights

On sex-selective abortion

Two articles on the selective abortion of girls have recently been published in The New Statesman. The first is by GlosswitchI think she’s probably right that some of those ‘whipping up outrage’ are doing so because they are generally hostile (more or less) to abortion.  But I find elements of her argument odd, to say the least.

According to Tory MP Sarah Wollaston “selective abortion of girls harms women and reinforces misogynist attitudes”. Does it really? And what, precisely, does forcing women to continue with unwanted pregnancies do to our perceptions of womankind? Is this the only instance in which feminists are expected to play good abortion/bad abortion, or are there others? And as for misogyny – well, it strikes me as pretty shameful that the one time this word is on everyone’s lips we’re applying it to those not yet born.

It doesn’t seem eccentric to argue that the selective abortion of girls reflects a misogynist attitude, perhaps internalised by the woman, perhaps imposed by male relatives.  Her argument that ‘misogyny’ is the ‘m’ word which can’t be spoken – by contrast with ‘misandry’ which she describes as a fashionable accusation – also seems odd.  She complains that those opposed to aborting girls don’t speak out against women who have abortions for economic reasons. I don’t think this is true. Here is Marko Attila Hoare for example, writing from a left wing perspective:

And yet contemporary Britain despises fecund low-income women. When Mick and Mairead Philpott were convicted of killing their six children, conservatives from chancellor George Osborne to the Daily Mail seemed to feel the problem was not just that they had killed them but that they had had them in the first place.

Tory politicians such as Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith have suggested limiting child benefits to the first two children.

In a culture where children are viewed, not as the citizens and taxpayers of the future in whose support the current generation has a stake, but as a luxury to be supported only by parents prosperous enough to afford them without burdening the taxpayer, it is unsurprising that the extermination of unwanted babies through abortion is effectively encouraged.

Glosswitch suggests that commentators from the right are weaponising sex specific abortion to attack abortion in general – but is she, perhaps, doing something rather similar, using the plight of women who seek abortion on economic grounds to make a rhetorical pro-choice point?

The second piece is by Sarah Ditum.

What did Dr Prabha Sivaraman do wrong? She said this: “I don’t ask questions. You want a termination, you want a termination.” The woman she said this to wasn’t even pregnant: she was a Telegraph journalist claiming to want an abortion because of the sex of the foetus.

The fact the journalist wasn’t pregnant seems completely irrelevant, just as it would be irrelevant if someone enquiring about the possibility of FGM didn’t really have a daughter.

I quite liked the image she uses here:

The fact that the paper [i.e. the Telegraph] is pursuing this vendetta against choice while also running a campaign for better sex education is just the caramelised irony skin on the crème brûlée of compulsory pregnancy.

But I think a campaign for better sex education seems an excellent way of tackling at least some instances of unwanted pregnancy, though of course not all.

She goes on to argue that sex-selective abortion is not illegal, and that a doctor may, in good faith, think continuing the pregnancy would constitute a ‘risk’ to a woman anxious about the consequences of having a female child. There is some logic in this – in both writers’ positions in fact. If you believe in choice, and that “the only person who can decide whether or not a pregnancy should continue is the person who is pregnant” then I suppose you must accept that women may choose to have an abortion for various reasons which may seem extremely problematic. I favour making early abortion simpler to access, and I’m not fully convinced by the arguments of those seeking other changes to the law (particularly in the US).  It’s actually, if anything, the pro-choice voices which are most likely to make me waver.

Tom Chivers’ piece, criticised by both Ditum and Glosswitch, is excellent.