Bioethics

Sex-Selection Abortion: Bad News for Pro-Choicers

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Author Amy K. Hall Published on 07/10/2012

Allison Benedikt, a writer for Slate, gets it. The key question when it comes to abortion is, “What is the unborn?” When pro-choicers speak out against sex-selection abortion, they undermine the entire pro-choice position because it’s an admission that sex-selection abortion kills little girls.

Strategically, it makes no sense to give in to this idea that there’s somehow something a little queasier about having an abortion for gender than, say, for money. These are equally legitimate reasons (or, if you are on the other side, equally illegitimate). One might make you uncomfortable in your gut, but it can’t make the movement hesitate. Because that hesitation—that pause of, well, yes this one is complicated, or, as Amanda says, this one is "unpleasant to contemplate"—makes it that much easier for so many of those other reasons (money, timing, work) to seem a little not-OK too.

Also, let’s just remember that we are talking about fetuses. No matter how many ultrasound pics get posted to Facebook, these are fetuses with female genitals or male genitals—not little girls and little boys. If pro-choicers object to aborting because of the sex of the fetus, aren’t we then saying that abortion is “murdering” girls? Aren’t we basically arguing that a fetus is not a blank slate but a future possibility? That is not the case to make if your goal is to protect abortion rights. Gulp for a second if you must, then get over it.

I can’t imagine what argument Benedikt uses to convince herself a fetal human with female genitals is a “blank slate” (whatever that means) and not a very little girl. The words “boy” and “girl” mean something specific, and the use of them by ultrasound technicians is uncontroversial when said female or male genitals are observed on tiny human bodies.

Benedikt recommends that pro-choicers forget what technology is revealing to us, grit their teeth, and force themselves to move past what their consciences are telling them. As they do, expect to see the intellectual contortions used to support the “right” to kill these humans become increasingly more strange.

Sex-selection abortion is a losing issue for pro-choicers. It pits their desire to promote the value of women against their desire to have the right to end the lives of their developing children. It also calls attention to the humanity of those children. If pro-choicers come out against it, they admit to what it is they’re killing. If they come out for it, they look like heartless hypocrites.

Just as Benedikt fears, a conversation with your pro-choice friends about the injustice of sex-selection abortion might be all they need to untangle their thinking. Maybe you could start by showing them this documentary trailer.