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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Thoughts on Sex Selection and Abortion

After their defeat with Motion 312, the back door attempt to criminalize abortion, the antis are apparently trying again. They are introducing a motion to condemn sex selection, and I would imagine, in doing so, they aim to ban abortion in cases of sex selection. Again, they are stepping way back in the process so the motion seems innocuous. But is it? They think they have found the feminist Achilles heal. They have not.
In my play, The Abortion Monologues, there is a monologue delivered by a character who is having an abortion because she is having a girl. She talks about being at a women’s centre and telling the worker there that she is having an abortion and they tell her she doesn’t have to do this, that in Canada, it is acceptable to have a girl and no one can force her to have an abortion. The character explains that her husband and his family are unhappy and that she is also unhappy about having a girl, about letting them down. The point is, her beliefs are their beliefs. She knows what she knows. She wants the abortion. She wants the support of the women at the women’s centre in this choice.
The character is sad this has to happen, but she knows it has to happen. She knows more than anyone what it will be like for this girl to be born into this family at this time. She knows how this girl will suffer in her life. The girl will suffer as she has suffered. Although it “should not” be this way, and girls “should” be as welcome as boys, in fact, they are not.
As women, when we decide whether or not to continue our pregnancies, we deal with what is, not with what should be or what is theoretically palatable. This woman knows she cannot provide for this child in some way that matters, in some way that matters to her.
Is it any different than knowing one cannot provide economically for a child and choosing an abortion for this reason? No. Will we tell the woman of no economic means that this is not a good reason to have an abortion? No. We all know we wish it weren’t so, that in a perfect world all women would be capable of supporting their families, but in our world, the imperfect world, they are not. Women still earn much less than men and have less steady work, work in lower paid part time jobs and without benefits. We lack affordable and decent child care. These are issues we all know about.
Is it any different than knowing one cannot provide for a child that will have significant and potentially devastating medical needs? Perhaps there will be serious challenges that will likely consume the family's time and income, leaving little left for the other children. Will we tell this woman that this is not an acceptable reason for having an abortion? No. Again, we all know that in a perfect world, the needs of every child, no matter how specific, how costly, how out of the ordinary they may be, would be met. But in our imperfect world, they are not. Again, we deal with what is, not with what should be. 
Meanwhile, we do not stop striving to make the world a place where these factors no longer matter, where every child’s needs are met, where something like economic constraints do not have to become part of the choice.
Ultimately, when we factor out all the “reasons” for abortion, whether they be economic or social, there will still be abortions. What happens when we only have women left who choose abortion because they simply don’t want to have a child? Do we tell these women that this is not a good reason? That this is selfish? No. We would not do this.
The whole line of thinking that some abortions are done for reasons that are more valid than others, because someone was raped, for example, is problematic. Any woman can choose an abortion for any reason, and she doesn’t have to tell us what it is. It's none of our business. 

Meanwhile, we do not stop striving to make the world a place where little girls are as wanted as little boys, where the systemic discrimination of women is a thing of the past. As we all know, taking away a woman’s right to control her own body, to be fully informed and make fully informed choices, is not a way to do this.
Demanding a woman give birth to an unwanted girl to make some sort of anti-sexist point is to sacrifice her will for ideology. It is as coercive as demanding she abort the girl, also a demand that sacrifices her will for ideology.
We assume, and I think we assume wrongly, that women who have an abortion for reasons of sex selection do so unwillingly. To impose our ideas on another woman’s life is patronizing. We can’t know. We don’t need to know. Again, it’s none of our business. As always, the pregnant woman is the best person to make this choice about her own body and her own family. No one can take this away from her. To do so would be truly sexist.  
The motion will undoubtedly allow racism into the argument. We will see the dreaded "White Man's Burden" argument rear its ugly head. Someone will suggest it is the place of "Canadians" to teach "Others" how to live. I have no problem asking "Canadians" to be exemplary. To do that, let's clean up our own backyard and make sure Canadian women have true equality and that we bring an end to the kind of systemic discrimination that leads to girls being worth less than boys. But let's not pretend we have this figured out already. We don't.  
Our bottom line has to be to let the woman decide. Always. There is no feminist dilemma here. Only sadness that our world is still so imperfect and that we are so far from achieving equality.


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