Pro-choice feminists find themselves in a quandary when they are faced with sex–selection abortions, especially when, as is usually the case, they are performed because the baby is a girl.
Sadly, most feminists have chosen to overlook this obvious misogyny and support such abortions. They argue that a woman has the right to abort her child even if she is doing so solely to prevent another prenatal “woman” from being born. This seems like a blindingly obvious case of discrimination against women, but pro-choicers tend to support these abortions based on “women’s rights.”
In bizarre cases, feminist groups even proclaim that fighting female feticide (i.e. abortions to eliminate baby girls) is “anti-feminist.” An example is this quote from the facebook page of a group called the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. When recommending an article that discusses sex selection abortions, they said:
Here’s an excellent article that explains in detail how the war against sex selection abortion in India contributes to the further oppression of women in many ways.
Trying to understand the perspective of a feminist who would write that makes my head hurt.
But you often get pro-abortion feminists saying that arguments against sex selection are pointless because women in the US don’t abort their babies just for being girls. The killing of baby girls just for being girls just doesn’t happen here, they say. However, there have been a number of abortion providers who have said, over the years, that they have witnessed babies being aborted for being female, including one clinic worker who wrote on her blog:
…even the pro-choicers didn’t want to really talk about sex selection abortion occurring. The reality is, though: it does.
Rayna Rapp, a former abortion clinic counselor, wrote a book where she interviewed genetic counselors working in two different facilities. These were not abortion clinic workers, but people who worked for labs that did genetic testing to see if the babies women were carrying had Down syndrome or other conditions. The women who tested positive were counseled and then usually given referrals to the friendly neighborhood abortion clinics to dispose of their disabled children.
But some counselors Rapp interviewed had qualms about the women who went to them not to find out if the baby was disabled, but to find out if the baby was female.
Along the same lines, every counselor deplored abortion of a healthy fetus for reasons of sex selection, but all could tell the stories of the once or twice in their careers when someone had chosen termination because their healthy fetus was the “wrong sex.” And usually, the wrong sex was the female sex. Such fetal “feticide” makes feminist theorists and activists justifiably very angry and pessimistic. Counselors are very troubled by their collusion with such drastic actions, but also express the discipline imposed by their nondirective stance. After all, most reason, a “woman’s right to choose” extends to deciding to abort for whatever cause she finds meaningful, and this one denotes profound problems in her life should she produce an extra daughter instead of a much desired son. Counselors perceive this problem to be particularly burdensome for Chinese and Indian women, who come from groups in which sons are more highly valued. In these communities, there have been public discussions of the uses of sex selection to produce them… Despite their own ethical beliefs, most counselors provide counseling services even when they know that a diagnosis is being sought for sex selection reasons.
So while these counselors thought aborting disabled children was fine, they had some qualms when healthy girls were aborted just for being girls. And yet, they repressed those feelings and still supported the women who choose aborted for that reason.
For those who note that Rapp says that each counselor only encountered sex selection “once or twice” in her career, I would point out even if it’s true that only a small number of baby girls are targeted for abortion, it is still concerning. Even one case of a healthy baby being the victim of a late term abortion (keep in mind that since sex can’t be determined before eighteen weeks or so, these are all late term abortions, done when the baby is fully formed and has every organ and body system in place) is too many. Also, the fact that every counselor interviewed had this experience does make for a significant number.
It is sad that these counselors, who are on the front lines of the abortion battle, dealing with abortion minded women every day, are so committed to unfettered abortion that they can’t try to convince women to let their babies live even in cases of discriminatory sex-based targeting.
Source: Rayna Rapp Testing Women, Testing the Fetus: the Social Impact of Amniocentesis in America (New York: Routledge, 1999) 94