Still about choice?


by Rumbold
14th September, 2007 at 8:42 am    

Recently there was quite a heated discussion on Amnesty’s spat with the Roman Catholic Church over the former’s support for abortion. Most people on the thread supported a woman’s right to choose, but what about if a woman is aborting her child because of the sex? Should there, or even can there, be legislation to prevent this?

Joanne Payton, at the International Campaign Against Honour Killings, reports that the Chief Minister of Punjab, Parkash Singh Badal, called for female foeticide to be equated with:

Murder in terms of punishment, as it was a heinous crime perpetrated by anti-social elements in the society and must be condemned by one and all.

Female foeticide seems to be especially prevalent in the Indian state of Punjab, with only 776 girls for every 1,000 boys.

Nearly all of us would agree that this is extremely distasteful, and not an ideal situation, but can anything be done about it other than trying to persuade Indians that aborting females because of their sex is wrong? Indian society as a whole needs to learn to value women more, and cut out the practice of dowry if they want to save their next generation of females. With superior ultrasound it will become easier to detect the sex of the baby, so the situation may get worse before it gets better. If women are already second-class citizens before they are even born, what hope do they have?


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  1. Inders — on 14th September, 2007 at 10:08 am  

    Its a nice and easy argument to blame dowry. But I feel this misses the massive point about what dowry is and what its meant to represent. As everyone here should know property right within Asian families pass down the line to sons and not daughters, traditionaly. The dowry is meant to represent the girls share of the family wealth to take to her new family so she does get some inheritance.

    So doing away with dowry without addressing the underlying problem of inheritance rights will not solve anything.

  2. Leon — on 14th September, 2007 at 10:14 am  

    Sounds like a murky area of law to get into. How do you prove that a woman aborted due to the gender of the baby?

    Indian society as a whole needs to learn to value women more

    That sounds like one possible solution to this problem.

  3. Sofia — on 14th September, 2007 at 10:36 am  

    Inders, that may be the theory but it definitely is not the practice. If it were the case that this was for the woman to keep as her own form of inheritance then she would not have to hand it over to the man as soon as she got married, which is what happens in many cases. Also if this were the case, why would families ask for dowrys to be paid to men before the marriage? Why not leave it to the woman’s family to sort out themselves without the groom’s side getting involved. I think the dowry system should remain symbolic if peopole still want to retain the tradition, otherwise it’s evil when people make it all about what a woman gives to the man in order for them to marry her.

    I do think abortion is a choice to an extent…and have said as much on the other thread, but I did also mention female abortion and think it hypocritical for people who were saying it was actually responsible for people who could not afford children to abort them instead of relying on the state to then not give a woman the choice to kill a female child for finacial reasons. So in the West its ok to have an abortion for financial reasons because its not sexist???? I for one do not agree with abortion for this reason at all…I think it a horrible part of Indian culture for women to be treated as second class citizens or as brainless idiots (as in bollywood films)…

    I do think female foeticide needs to be a punishable crime, but then who will be prosecuted? The father, mother, the doctor? Who will prove the reasons why the child is being aborted? Improving the status of women is an ongoing struggle, but the issue of female foeticide is an urgent situation that needs to be addressed immediately. As for this being just an Indian problem, I’ve heard stories of women from England going to India to have abortions because the foetus is female. I also know that many hospitals will not tell Asian women the sex of the child for fear of them having an abortion. Dowry is not always an issue here is it? It’s womens’ pathetic perpetuation of self loathing, that makes them think a son is in someway better than a daughter…sorry for ranting, but i’ve recently come across a woman who had a third daughter and is now depressed…part of me wants to slap her for being so damned ungrateful…part of me just doesnt understand how someone in this country has not in some small way moved away from these attitudes.

  4. Jay3gsm — on 14th September, 2007 at 10:56 am  

    It all stems from the same issue that allowing abortion for any reason is wrong. Once you allow a criminal act like abortion to happen, people will always use it for their own selfish needs.

    All involved should be tried for murder, and suitable punishment should be given out for such a crime

  5. sonia — on 14th September, 2007 at 11:01 am  

    good point from leon. how woud you pinpoint that – and you couldn’t easily, and any resources used to try and work out who was doing that would be better spent on the wider issue of female rights. for whatever reasons a woman does not want a baby – you cannot force her to have that baby, in my opinion, if you do, well who is it benefiting? not that baby clearly. if the woman was being forced to have the abortion -that would be different- so there could be steps like the doctor has a session with the woman separately – no husband or mother-in-law – to ask what she actually wants.

    but generally – yes this is a very difficult area with no ‘easy’ solution or opinion to have.

    the main issue i can see here is if people think its okay to force women to have babies they don’t want – that reinforces the wider idea that women aren’t capable of thinking or making decisions for themselves.

    i would rather worry about the women who exist than women that don’t yet exist.


    dowry is officially abolished anyhow, and even in families that acknowledge that ( and many don’t)and don’t demand dowry ( and it is changing) there are still attitudes towards females which will take longer to change. which is hardly surprising given the amount of time – centuries these attitudes have been entrenched for.

    unfortunately this is an area which needs a lot of work in lots of different areas, and has no short-term solutions.

  6. Ravi Naik — on 14th September, 2007 at 11:03 am  

    One thing I learnt from the previous discussion on abortion is that some people who consider themselves pro-choice do not believe it is right to abort in the latter stages of the pregnacy, but rather focus on the first weeks.

    With that in mind, I am afraid, you can’t have it both ways. You either support a women’s right to choose or you don’t. I don’t see how you can say that some justifications for aborting are more worthy than others, when the circumstances are the same. It is most of the time – West and India – about financial reasons, isn’t it? I find it very inconsistent, and somewhat condescending to say that Western women have the right to choose, but Indian women have pre-conditions.

    So, rather than focusing on laws that prohibit abortion based on sex, the Indian government should enforce and create measures to fight injustice in rural areas, so that couples are not forced to take extreme measures.

  7. sonia — on 14th September, 2007 at 11:06 am  

    i suppose if it weren’t india, one could suggest that doctors just don’t tell anyone the sex of the baby. mind you, being india, we all know that you can get round rules depending on who you are, or how much money you have.

    p.s. i should point out – my moral position is that abortion is not murder, till the damn thing is born it doesn’t have any rights in my opinion because it doesn’t exist as a human. ( before everyone starts jumping down my throat.) perhaps i should also make clear that in my opinion, if people don’t want them, i’d rather they sort it out before its born.

  8. sonia — on 14th September, 2007 at 11:07 am  

    i think Jay3′s point is a pertinent one – in as much that opinions on this will all depend on whether one thinks abortion is wrong or not.

  9. sonia — on 14th September, 2007 at 11:18 am  

    personally – i think its highly selfish to bring a new life into this shitty world, if you can’t provide a good home for it, and love. having an abortion, therefore – for me, is a “lesser” issue. i dont think its nice for anyone and it takes a lot of guts to go through it, so i don’t think its something that people take lightly, so for me, i assume that in that position, a woman has thought long and hard about it, and its not a choice she takes lightly.

  10. Sofia — on 14th September, 2007 at 11:25 am  

    What about the teenagers that are going through it? the 14/15/16 year olds?? Are they as psychologically prepared for it as a 28 year old woman?

  11. Leon — on 14th September, 2007 at 11:59 am  

    Once you allow a criminal act like abortion to happen, people will always use it for their own selfish needs.

    Abortion is legal therefore not a criminal act.

  12. sonia — on 14th September, 2007 at 12:35 pm  

    sofia, psychologically prepared for what? abortion – or motherhood?

    isn’t that part of the wider issue of why are such young girls expected to become mothers? if they are expected to be able to handle motherhood, then i think we can expect them to be able to decide if they do not want to be a mother. Precisely because they are young i would suggest it is a ridiculous idea to expect them to be a mother!

    but if they are pregnant and want an abortion, i don’t think id say to a teenager, well you’re too young to have an abortion. but hey that’s my opinion. i don’t think people go around thinking, am i old enough to abort? i think its a devil and deep blue choice, not one someone chooses to go through. and i dont think 28 year old women find abortion easy either. I dont think its easy for anyone, the reason i point that out is because many pro-lifers seem to think its something you get into willy nilly.

    the important issues here are wider societal issues – not about the actual killing of a foetus. why are young girls expected to become mothers? why is there pressure on girls to get married early? why is the situation of women the way it is? and so on and so forth.

    the focus on abortion seems to me rather strange in a country where live humans need sorting out first.

  13. sonia — on 14th September, 2007 at 12:37 pm  

    i mean in the indian context of course. i daresay the argument could be different if you were talking about some other country.

  14. Jai — on 14th September, 2007 at 1:29 pm  

    I don’t see how you can say that some justifications for aborting are more worthy than others, when the circumstances are the same.

    Aha, but that’s why they convince themselves – or (mis)interpret the facts – that the “circumstances” aren’t actually the same, ie. between time period a to b it’s not really alive or human, but from time period c onwards it is. As the previous debate on PP demonstrated.

    the Indian government should enforce and create measures to fight injustice in rural areas, so that couples are not forced to take extreme measures.

    Very good point, but the problem is that this whole issue isn’t confined to the deprived and/or those in rural areas. In many cases it certainly does occur due to financial reasons, but in many others it doesn’t — I’m referring specifically to the relatively affluent members of the population who live in the cities etc — and in such cases it’s basically an entrenched, self-rationalising, brainwashed and deeply corrupt attitude problem. Including, most disturbingly, the attitude many Indian women “back home” have towards other members of the female gender, regardless of the latter’s age (or lack of it).

  15. Jai — on 14th September, 2007 at 1:42 pm  

    can anything be done about it other than trying to persuade Indians that aborting females because of their sex is wrong?

    “Blue sky” solutions ?

    1. Heavily prosecute everyone associated with such acts to the maximum extent of the law, including extensive imprisonment for all the guilty parties.

    2. Strip the doctors concerned of their license to practice medicine. Permanently. In any country.

    3. And put members of both groups on a “female foeticide” offenders register.

    4. As a more extreme alternative to imprisonment, and a solution which is perhaps a modern-day equivalent to the injunction by the Sikh Gurus that one should ostracize anyone involved in female infanticide, all guilty parties could be stripped of their Indian citizenship and lose their right to residency there. If you really wanted to push this, they could also be banned from ever setting foot in the country again.

    One of the nastier facts of human life is that some people only respond to the threat of enforced punishment, otherwise they knowingly carry on with their nefarious activities whilst finding some twisted self-serving way to rationalise and justify their actions.

  16. Sofia — on 14th September, 2007 at 2:15 pm  

    Sonia psychologically prepared for both..I don’t think it is a willy nilly approach at all. What I find disturbing are the statistics..making Britain the highest in Europe for teenage pregnancies…what of the knock on effects such as abortion? I will never look at abortion as a black and white issue, but I do think that often many “prolifers” are put into the crazy fundamentalist grouping..instead of actually dissecting what some are trying to say..that the rates of abortion in a country where there is free and open access to contraception is still as high as it is.

  17. Robert — on 14th September, 2007 at 4:07 pm  

    Can we assume that the doctors are, by and large, going to support the need for a reduction in the practice of female foetocide? If so, then perhaps an addendum to their Hippocratic Oath, or at least, a professional agreement countrywide, to NOT let parents know the gender of their child until the term limit for abortion has been reached?

    But yes, it is clearly a societal thing. Banning abortions or putting provisos on the kind of abortions required is going to cause massive complications, an increase in injustice, and an exploitation of loopholes.

  18. Sofia — on 14th September, 2007 at 4:32 pm  

    Robert, I think abortion is being exploited as it is..with the situation India for example.

  19. Don — on 14th September, 2007 at 5:56 pm  

    This is a very perplexing issue, and PP – with its diverse mix of views and general respect for that diversity – is a good place to address it.

    Like most liberals I respond to issues initially through the heart – what ‘feels’ right – and then try to examine my thinking. So ‘woman’s right to choose’ gets my immediate approval. Female foeticide gets an instinctive ‘no’. But how to reconcile the two liberal positions when they conflict makes one examine just how seriously one has been thinking about the issue, rather than just signing up to the prevailing orthodoxy.

    Ravi puts it well with ‘…Western women have the right to choose, but Indian women have pre-conditions.’

    What if medical science were to enable mothers to choose the sex of their child at conception, with abortion not an issue? Would that be a moral question? It could well lead to demographic disaster, but is the individual obliged to maintain a demographic balance?

  20. Rumbold — on 14th September, 2007 at 7:56 pm  

    Don:

    “Like most liberals I respond to issues initially through the heart – what ‘feels’ right – and then try to examine my thinking. So ‘woman’s right to choose’ gets my immediate approval. Female foeticide gets an instinctive ‘no’. But how to reconcile the two liberal positions when they conflict makes one examine just how seriously one has been thinking about the issue, rather than just signing up to the prevailing orthodoxy.”

    Excellent point.

    I do understand about the problems of dictating to women on what grounds they have abortions, but there does seem to be something fundamentally wrong in having an abortion because you do not want a girl, because then the woman will try and get pregnant again to have a boy; that is different from having an abortion because of financial pressures, as said woman will not try and get pregnant soon after.

    Jai’s suggestion about ostracization is a good one, as woman are able to abort girls because it is socially acceptable to do so. How though could it be made socially unacceptable?

  21. Matt — on 15th September, 2007 at 1:41 am  

    Presumably those arguing in support of abortion would suggest that foeticide should be equated to property damage rather than murder in the comparison?

  22. Jagdeep — on 17th September, 2007 at 3:36 pm  

    Isn’t all abortion ‘foeticide’?

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