When does gender equality begin?

Not in the womb, say abortion rights activists.
Carolyn Moynihan | 30 January 2015
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The impositions that some immigrant women suffer from their communities are often shocking to their Western sisters. These practices range from burquas through female genital mutilation to forced marriages and honour killings. It is obvious that the women concerned are not happy with some of these practices either, and appreciate laws in their adopted country that ban the most harmful, as well as campaigns of women’s rights groups to roll back the others.

But in one form of coercion it seems they have been on their own, and that is the pressures arising from son preference and the ready availability of abortion. In Britain, for example, the selective aborting of female foetuses is largely hidden and both government officials and many health professionals dispute that it is even occurring. That’s partly because “gender abortions” are illegal, although some groups deny even that.

In fact the very people who should be fighting this trend – those flying the flag of women’s rights – are working overtime to produce arguments why they should not. An amendment introduced into the UK parliament last week to clarify that the law does prohibit such abortions -- and winning substantial cross-party support -- was opposed by 50 doctors and assorted academics in a letter to the Daily Telegraph a couple of days ago.

One of them, sociologist and abortion rights activist Pam Lowe, wrote an article “explaining” that coerced sex-selective abortions are a domestic violence issue, “not a reproductive health issue”. Get it? Never mind. Her point really was that nothing, not even a quiet war on her own sex, should be allowed to limit the sacred right to an abortion.

The fact remains that not all women, or men, agree with her. Fiona Bruce, the Conservative MP who is leading the legislative campaign against gendercide in the UK, floated a bill in November that passed its first reading by 181 votes to 1. The substance of that bill is now contained in an amendment to a Government bill, the Serious Crimes Act, which includes measures to combat domestic violence and FGM and is expected to become law before the general election in May. Over 70 MPs have already signed Bruce’s amendment.

The new legislative vehicle for the gender abortion ban makes it clear that this is not simply a pro-life move but a pro-woman move. Bruce writes in The Telegraph that Jeena International, an advocacy group that works closely with women who have been coerced into sex-selective abortions, often as part of a wider pattern of domestic violence, have published first-hand evidence that this is a real issue. She cites two examples:

[The first] concerns a woman called Rupinder, who was the eldest of a family of six girls. She remembers vividly the great disappointment and upset among friends and relations whenever her mother came home from the hospital having given birth to another girl. It was partly the knowledge and experience of these huge pressures and expectations on women in her community to have male children that led her to abort her third child when she found that she was expecting a girl. She now bitterly regrets that decision.

A second woman, Uraj, was physically assaulted and abandoned by her husband when he found out that she was expecting a girl. She recalled being kicked and punched repeatedly in the stomach as her husband attempted to cause a miscarriage. She passed out and woke to having been abandoned. She was served with divorce papers shortly after.

Rani Bilkhu, head of Jeena, says these are only the tip of the iceberg. Karma Nirvana, an organisation that works to help women in forced marriages, says the same, Bruce reports. The MP believes these women should be taken at their word.

The abortion lobby on the other hand seems indecently ready to take a woman at her word if she asks for an abortion, and to comes up with objections to the gender abortion ban that are deeply ironic, if not laughable. In their letter to the Telegraph these were:

* It would “undermine the professional integrity” of abortionists  and suggest that they “need to be stopped from doing something that constitutes a form of violence and abuse and thus need to be prevented from harming women. This is a serious claim,” they say. And it is, but there is evidence that abortion harms many women physically and/or mentally, to say nothing of the lethal violence to the unborn child. To speak of professional integrity in this context seems sadly deluded.

* Doctors would be led into the dreaded “ethnic profiling” trap, having to ask “Asian women specifically their reason for requesting abortion.” This is very revealing. Wouldn’t a good professional, one with integrity, recognising the seriousness of abortion, ask every woman who came to them why she wanted an abortion, and try to discover if she feels pressured in any way? To suggest an alternative, if that is the case?

* The amendment by referring to “the unborn child” attempts to “secure a legal definition of pregnancy that recognises  the ‘rights of the unborn’ – independent of the pregnant woman – and thus erodes women’s reproductive rights.” So this is the real, basic issue: erosion of the right to an abortion. Not a woman’s true reproductive freedom, not the dignity and status of women in general, just the system that the elites have established for tidying up society’s sexual messes – regardless of whether it is really good for women.

Of course, they are right that “erosion” of this system is a possibility. In the United States the pro-life movement is following a path of incremental restrictions with some success – notably at present in the area of bans on abortion after 20 weeks gestation. This is what Lowe and others are terrified of.

Since she cannot dismiss the reality of gender abortions (they are “a serious issue”) she offers some slightly more sophisticated arguments against the gender abortion ban than the letter mentioned above. These are:

* “You cannot promote gender equality by enacting laws that place restrictions on women’s bodies.” But the proposed law would restrict the abortionist from an assault on her body that a woman who is likely coerced in some way does not want. It would make the abortionist part of a social effort to counter gender discrimination.

* “Banning sex selective abortion opens up a world in which there is such a things as a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ reason for an abortion.” Does she truly think that there are no bad reasons for abortion? None at all? So how did abortion, which concerns human life and maternity – two core human values – come to be totally separated from the realm of morality? Does the rest of society see it like this? No!

* “… it implies coercion is a reproductive health issue rather than what it actually is – an act of domestic violence.” Certainly coercion of this sort is a kind of domestic violence, but when a coerced woman asks for an abortion, coercion becomes an issue for the “reproductive health” agent, who, if he or she cares at all about her health, including mental health, will find out during an interview whether she is acting freely or not.

Lowe ends up simply asserting that outlawing sex-selective abortion is “unlikely to be the solution” and “will do nothing to really help” fight discrimination and violence against women.

Why not? The solution to these things, as with all other social evils, will be incremental changes, through all sorts of social channels. And abortionists, if they sincerely value their professional integrity should want to be part of that.

Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet.

This article is published by Carolyn Moynihan and MercatorNet.com under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

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