My brilliant, wonderful father, who is my hero in so many things, is anti-choice. He’s also opposed to gay marriage; there are a number of social issues on which we disagree. Over breakfast the other day (an excellent time to discuss polarizing politics if ever there was one!) he brought up the problem of sex-selective abortion and asked me if, given that a severely disproportionate number of females are aborted over males, I would re-think my pro-choice stance. I said no.
The question everyone keeps asking and saying we need to address – the question of whether abortion, and the right to choose, is causing what the Economist identified last year as a “gendercide” – is, to my mind, absolutely the wrong question.
Parents in many countries are clearly deciding they do not want baby girls. Baby girls do not hold the same value as baby boys, and young girls and women do not have the value of the men those baby boys will grow up to be.
Let me be explicit: eliminating abortion access does not make this problem stop. It does not save women. When parents who are pregnant with a girl cannot abort but do not wish to keep her, they often kill or abandon her. And despite the extremely popular contrary opinion we hear so often on this blog, those of us in the pro-choice movement are not also pro-murder. Once a baby is born, it’s born. Once a baby is born, it is an independent, breathing, living being that deserves every support we as a society can offer it, and drowning it in a well or leaving it on the side of a road to die is murder. And we are against murder here! I repeat that point only because there frequently seems to be so much confusion.
So the real question is, why do parents feel the need to abort based solely on the child’s sex? I believe it is because every society in existence, at present, goes to great lengths to devalue women as a gender. We are objectified, patronized, controlled. People – generally men, with the support of a small handful of women with power and internalized sexism – decide what is best for us without our input. Women make up 51% of the population in America, and more than half of college graduates, but still comprise 10% or less of Congress. The Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy reported in May that women comprise 23% of federal and 27% of state-level judgeships (yes, they also claim “judgeships” is a word). This means in the courts, where an overwhelming number of questions on women’s rights stand to be decided in the near future, women themselves are desperately outnumbered at almost 5 to 1.
And then there’s that internalized bit I mentioned. When the women given the highest pedestals and the most attention in our nation are generally white, thin, apolitical reality TV stars, while politically conscious women are derided as bitches and “feminist” has become a four-letter word, it is hard for little girls to value themselves or want to make a difference. To hear people tell it, these days, they mostly want plastic surgery and a very large sweet sixteen party, ideally attended by Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt. And if we don’t value ourselves, why should men? Why should anyone listen to us if we’re afraid to speak because it will make us look bad, or if we’re never taught how, for largely the same reasons?
And that is just in America which, in my entirely biased opinion, actually is the most phenomenal place in the world to live (sorry, fellow Canadian bloggers). In poorer countries, where more of the population is rural, the problems are more numerous and considerably worse.
Ironically, the question of whether women should have access to abortion plays into the very same mentality that contributes to the sex-selective abortions so many concerned citizens seem to want to try and combat (and I do genuinely believe many people of the people expressing concern really do want to stop sex-selective abortions and not just control women’s reproductive choices – frankly the subject makes me want to give up, curl in a ball and cry). But that concern would be much more helpful if it were directed at the cause of gender-specific abortions – namely, the lack of value placed on women in so many societies – and perpetuating the idea that women aren’t capable of, or shouldn’t be allowed to, make their own reproductive choices only exacerbates that very problem.
When someone tells you parents abort female children more readily than male children in many countries, tell them this is not news. Ask them why they think parents value a boy more than a girl. And ask them if eliminating access to abortion and thereby once again demonstrating that women cannot be trusted to make reproductive choices for themselves but require the state to prescribe them will help address that problem of value. I am absolutely certain that it will not.