Sex selective abortion is a controversial issue that the anti-choice movement has co-opted in an effort to end all abortions. Since female fetuses are typically the ones being aborted, anti-choice proponents have manipulated this to argue how abortion hurts all women — those having abortions and the unborn, future women that are aborted. However, what they fail to take into consideration is that sex selective abortions take place when a society devalues the female gender. The paternalistic attempts to eliminate a woman’s right to control her own reproductive health is proof that her choices, her decision-making ability, and her desires are not valued.
In countries such as India and China, sex selective abortions are much more common. They occur because of cultural and economic factors that favor families for having male children.
“We know that in Asian countries [a preference for sons] is the dominant cultural factor. The reasons are: parents think sons alone have the obligation to provide security to the parents in old age; undertake the responsibility of younger sibling’s education and marriage; bear the burden of family debt; perform the last rites for parents; bring in dowry; bring in return on investment made on their education; carry on the family business and protect the ancestral property.
But daughters are always considered as liability … since any investment on them, especially on education will benefit only the husband and the in-laws and heavy dowry has to be paid for them. Moreover, their entire marriage expenses are borne by their parents. The society does not accept the practice of parents living in daughters’ homes in old age. Hence even in the 21st century these reasons prevail and have caused aversion towards girl’s birth. Girl children are not allowed to be born through feticide or abortion and in poor families not allowed to live through infanticide.”
But the answer to ending sex selection isn’t to ban abortion. The solution lies in changing cultural attitudes in which being a female is a detriment.
“One unfortunate consequence of that ban could well be the increase in the number of newborn female infants killed, or worse still, chronic neglect of the unwanted girls. The effective measures would be … provide information and materials for effective contraception; … enforce measures for higher education of girls so that gender equity is achieved in education and employment matters. The last measure would help in treating girls as an asset than a liability. They can meet their expenses without depending on others. Economic independence for women is an effective tool to counteract [the preference for sons].”
This can not only be applied to the issue of sex selective abortions in countries such as India and China, but also to abortion rights everywhere.
“An ideal feminist world would not be one in which abortions are free and common, but one in which women have greater control over pregnancy, and in which the circumstances that make pregnancies unwanted, have been transformed. Until then, in a hugely imperfect, unfair and sexist world, I believe feminists must defend women’s access to legal and safe abortions whenever they decide to have them – whatever the reason for their decision.”