Aborting girls – India’s missing million

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.


5 responses to “Aborting girls – India’s missing million

  1. I wrote a post on this because of the conflicting points I witnessed in both debates in the eastern western sides of the world. It’s a bit sentimental, but it’s a subject that makes my blood boil, so I allowed it. I concluded that in both worlds women’s bodies are treated with little respect, and for the most part women are not allowed ownership of their own bodies anywhere in this world, whether they’re forced to have babies, or forced to have abortions, or conditioned to believe baby girls are undesirable and problematic to bring up so they’re better of without them, for whatever reason. Women, either way, are forced endure the guilt and the consequences.

  2. The only thing I have to offer in this case is schadenfreude in potentio. You know it’s wrong, and so do I. However, nothing anyone does this decade is going to change Indian culture to make the gender of a foetus a neutral piece of information in the way it is in civilised countries. Banning scanning will lead only to infanticide. Therefore think on this: they *will* pay, one way or another, as a society and a nation. Nature ‘prefers’ a grouping where there are a few promiscuous males, a few more non-breeding or less-breeding males, and a majority of females. India is messing with that balance, and sooner or later it will pay, and it won’t be pretty. Consider the effect on a society where there are increasing numbers of reasonably educated, increasingly affluent young men who can’t get a woman. Consider that that society has nuclear weapons…

  3. I think it is unhelpful to argue that women’s position in the West is the same as their position in the east, vintagefan. In the west women are neither forced to have babies nor forced to have abortions, simple as that. There is still sexism in the West, of course, and there is still individual and societal pressure on women, but our position in the West is one of enormous freedom and it is both stupid and morally wrong to pretend otherwise.

    Compelling point of view SoRB. The position of women in China is already beginning to shift, it seems, because of the decades of selection during the one child policy there.

    Interestingly, since I’ve concluded that there ain’t no such thing as reincarnation,
    https://aphrabehn.wordpress.com/2007/07/31/brief-candles/ I find my moral stance has firmed up to being anti-abortion, though I still consider it to be a private decision and not one for the state.

    If this is someone’s one and only chance at consciousness in the whole of this near-infinite universe, then who am I to take that chance away? If, on the other hand, they just amble off and reincarnate elsewhere, what does it matter if they never make it past 8 weeks of embryonic existence? And if they are one of God’s ickkle likkle lambs, then he’ll look after them even if they are aborted, so what’s the problem? I am not about to join the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, but I do find myself holding abortion in considerably more distaste these days.


  4. I’m sorry, I should have clarified. I find that the insistence of pro-lifers that a fetus’s life is worth more than the mother’s is a little bizarre, especially when moving to ban abortion again can only send the practice underground. It’s a scary thought because the repeal of Roe Vs. Wade (the court case that led to a decision that laws against abortion violated a constitutional right to privacy) is supported by many republican senators and the danger of seeing it repealed is neglected by some democratic ones in the political race to power. And there’s a bizarre little bill that’s been introduced in the Ohio State Legislature that a woman has to get the permission of the father of the fetus to get an abortion, which doesn’t leave much consideration for victims of rape (or a woman’s right to choose either way). I find it strange that such a bill was even thought of in this day and age, but it’s happening.

    I hope that clarifies things.

  5. “a woman has to get the permission of the father of the fetus to get an abortion, which doesn’t leave much consideration for victims of rape”

    I’d say if rape were proven, the law should not apply – and I’d be stunned if the law doesn’t make an exception in that case. But if the parenting event was consensual, why does only one parent get any say in whether the pregnancy goes to term?
    Personally I’d say a woman has an absolute right to an abortion if she wants one, and a right to not have one if she doesn’t (i.e. to have the baby).
    BUT: I also think the father has a right to a say.
    If he wants the pregnancy terminated, and the mother disagrees, then at that point she should become wholly responsible, financially, for that decision that she is taking on her own.
    If he wants a pregnancy carried to term and the mother wants it terminated… I don’t know how that would work. Maybe she should pay him damages or something. I guess the former case is much more common in any event.
    Either way, getting pregnant is something two adults do together. Getting an abortion is something ONE adult does, and right now, the other one involved has a whole bunch of responsibility and no authority. And responsibility without authority sucks.

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