Friday, October 7, 2011

More on the feelgood topic of abortion

We all know that sex selective abortion is wrong. At least most of us. But why is it wrong? It has been suggested that it causes sex imbalance so that many men will not be able to find wives and this causes social instability and other undesirable social effects. But that is not all is it? Let's say that there is a way to ameliorate or eliminate whatever social problem this causes. Say that there is a way to have the surplus men marry women from countries with an imbalance of females. Then would we say that sex selective abortion is permissible? If not why not?

One response is that people shouldn't be able to select for traits like sex or any other physical trait like eye color and height and so forth. That's a possibility and it does have some ground for support.

But I suspect that many people would say that sex selective abortion as it is practiced around the world constitute violence or even "gendercide" against girls and women and that this is the primary reason it is wrong. If this is the primary or only reason someone thinks sex selective abortion is wrong (assuming that the first reason can be solved by the out-marriage, e.g. and that the second objection does not hold for the person) then this person seem to need to offer an explanation why that is if they also hold that fetuses/embryos, zygotes are not persons worthy of a right to life. If unborn human organisms are not girls or women and do not have a right to life, sex selective aborting them is not a crime of murder against persons and hence not gendercide.

Now some may swallow the bullet and say that it may not be gendercide against females persons but it does constitute some kind of symbolic crime against women in the sense that pornography does so. It is a crime of psychical violence perpetrated against born women and girls by vitiating the status of females or by treating females as less than equal to males despite the fact that the actions are directed towards fetuses and not actual persons. But I'm not sure this is a persuasive move.


  1. While perhaps not a persuasive move, I think that moral qualms about selective sex abortions do come from the attitude that it is a "crime of psychical violence perpetrated against born women and girls by vitiating the status of females." I think that is also an overwhelming Western perspective, although certainly heard about feminists across the board, and one that fails to consider the cultural context in which such abortions occur. I'll speak to India as I am more familiar with it than China, the other area where sex-specific abortions are practiced in sizable numbers.

    India's move to ban ultrasounds was not cast in particularly moral terms but as a population concern (some estimates were that 500K female fetuses were being aborted each year) and a gender imbalance.

    Most of the reason for gender-specific abortions in India also, contrary to what is sometimes projected, is not an inherent dislike or devaluation of females, but the expense of dowries required to marry female children. Lacking a dowry, the girl will be doomed to be a spinster. In the matrifocal cultures of India, like the Malayali, gender-motivated abortions are practically non-existent. The elimination of the dowry system (towards which so many activists and feminists have been working towards for decades) would ameliorate the situation by removing the root cause of "gendercide."

  2. I've heard the argument from post colonialist feminists that western feminists fail to understand the problems you raised. China also has similar problems. Many families rely on sons to take care of their parents when they retire. But females often marry into other families and cannot do that filial duty. So it's a pragmatic problem and many would say that the solution ought not be female empowerment per se but economic empowerment for the whole society. In China, this is already happening in many of the major cities as surveys show that most couples don't care the sex of their baby.