Sex-selective abortion and the right to choose
Laura // 23 February 2012
The Telegraph today revealed the findings of an undercover investigation into whether clinics would allow women to have an abortion based solely on their desire not to have a boy or a girl. The investigation was clearly undertaken in the context of the anti-choice campaign to reduce access to abortion, with the Telegraph making reference to the fact that:
MPs have raised concerns over the growing commercialisation of abortion clinics and David Cameron and Mr Lansley are under pressure to accept proposals that women should receive independent counselling before a procedure takes place.
The investigation only targeted nine clinics, and found three doctors willing to refer the women for abortion. I really don’t think this can be extrapolated to mean that sex-selective abortion is a big issue in this country. However, it does throw up a moral quandary for feminists. Female infanticide through sex-selective abortion is a serious global problem. Yet at the same time, the pro-choice position states that only the woman who is pregnant gets to decide what happens to her body, and therefore if she wants an abortion for whatever reason, she should be able to access one.
For me, the idea that someone would terminate an otherwise wanted pregnancy due to the sex of the baby is horrible. However, the reasoning behind this decision may be complex and, as ever with abortion, no one other than the pregnant woman herself can really understand the position she is in.
I think we also need to recognise that, with regards to female infanticide, the underlying issue is sexism, not access to abortion. Stopping women accessing legal abortions will not stop female infanticide; but challenging sexist social and cultural beliefs may very well do.
Based on the above, I have to conclude that much as I dislike the thought of someone terminating a pregnancy because they’re having a girl or a boy, women should be able to legally have an abortion in these circumstances. I actually think the much-maligned doctor in the Telegraph’s video is a model of pro-choice good practice: she ensures the woman is confident in her decision and then refers her to have the termination, “no questions asked”.
Remember that in the UK a woman is strictly speaking only allowed to have an abortion in the event that the baby would be born with a serious disability or if there would be a greater risk to her physical or mental health, or to that of her existing children, if she carried on with the pregnancy (details here). We don’t have abortion on demand, and if that’s what we want, we have to accept that some women will have terminations for reasons we may very much dislike.
Photo by ProgressOhio, shared under a Creative Commons licence.