More than 10m female births in India may have been lost to abortion and sex selection in the past 20 years, according to medical research.
BBC News, 9th January 2006
Abortion, feminism and post-imperialism – let’s not waste time with easy subjects, eh?
For the record, I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I believe that abortion below a certain time limit is neither murder nor infanticide, that it is the killing of a potential human being. (Read Carl Sagan’s astonishingly good essay in Billions and Billions for the most lucid discussion on when that time limit should be, and why it should be set at that point). I believe that every human being has the right to have been wanted by its mother – that every child should be a wanted child.
I respect the rights of others to hold different opinions, but to be honest, that debate is circular, unilluminating and stale.
What I am finding challenging is the fact that my mildly feminist pro-choice stance leads, it seems, to an estimated million female foetuses being aborted in India over the last 20 years.
That really challenges my feminist sensibilities. How can my logic be right if it selects against the eventual birth of women in that way?
I’ve debated this with a couple of people, one of whom has pointed out that the decision is not necessarily a sexist one, it may be an economic one. In India’s society girls are more expensive than boys. But ultimately that raises my feminist concerns as well.
It’s a circle I find hard to square: on an individual basis I believe considered, controlled, safe and legal abortion to be every woman’s right, but then I look at the demographic in India (and presumably in China too) and find my thinking to be profoundly challenged.
I desperately want it to be wrong that so many women are missing from India’s population. I want an easy answer, that puts me in a nice warm spot on the moral high ground. Hell, it might even be nice to pontificate smugly about baby-killing.
Instead I sit with one of my inner-feminists saying “every woman should have the right to choose” in one ear, and another inner-feminist wailing “but 1,000,000 missing women can’t be right” in the other ear. They do it in a caring way, with sisterly solidarity, vegan ice-cream and synchronised menstrual cycles, of course. Every now and again I give them a copy of Diva to go away and read by themselves, and I get some peace for a while.
But, flippancy aside, it is a challenge I find deeply troubling.