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The real war on women

Elliott Pearce | Monday, October 8, 2012

This week is Respect Life Week here at Notre Dame. Some of you may think this week brings out the best in Notre Dame students by allowing us to stand together and make a strong statement supporting the rights of all human beings to live long and happy lives. Others believe it brings out the worst in us, with the rows of crosses that line South Quad pointing a hateful and accusatory finger at any woman who steps on our campus who has found herself in the difficult situation of considering abortion. Whatever your views about abortion and Respect Life Week, I hope we can all agree on the topic about which I am writing today: sex-selective abortion.

Sex-selective abortion is exactly what it sounds like: aborting a baby because the parents desire a child of a different sex. It is most common in Asian countries, particularly India and China, where the ratio of males to females at birth was as high as 1.2 to 1 in some parts of India and most of China (according to the Indian census and various U.N. population statistics in 2010). Although sex-selective abortion is far less common in the United States, it is not unheard of – especially among communities of immigrants who come from nations where sex-selective abortion is widely practiced.

The U.S. House of Representatives recently rejected a bill that would make knowingly participating in a sex-selective abortion a federal offense punishable by up to five years in prison. While I think the maximum penalty might seem excessive to those who do not believe that abortion is the killing of a human person, I believe that everyone, including those who would permit abortion in most cases, should support some kind of ban on sex-selective abortions in the United States. I will now offer three reasons why I hold this position. First, sex-selective abortion demeans the worth and dignity of women. Second, it is often a symptom of a broader culture of abuse and coercion of women that must be brought to light. Third, banning sex-selective abortion would allow the U.S. to exercise moral and practical leadership on an issue that will have drastic consequences for the futures of many nations.

Regarding offenses against women’s dignity: I am not a woman, but if I were, I would find it profoundly insulting that people seek medical procedures to allow them to have sons instead of daughters. This practice goes beyond sex-selective abortions to in-vitro fertilization, where parents can use some of the latest technologies and techniques to control the sex of the embryos they implant. Womanhood is not a genetic disorder to be eliminated through abortion, nor is it an undesirable trait that we should reject when building the perfect “designer” baby. Women are half of humanity. Some would even say they are the better half. Let’s keep it that way.

It should not surprise anyone, then, that in many cases, the women who undergo sex-selective abortions do not do so of their own free will. The father, under cultural pressure to produce sons in order to appear “virile” and “manly,” might convince or even compel the mother to abort a female fetus so he can try for a son next time. In this way, men who disdain womanhood impose their warped value system on their own wives by preventing them from bearing female children. It’s difficult for me to think of a more tragic example of male oppression of women. Allowing the authorities to investigate cases of sex-selective abortion could help put an end to this form of coercion and also bring to light related offenses like domestic violence.

Finally, banning sex-selective abortion in the United States would give the U.S. a chance to speak out against the rampant overuse of the practice in other countries. A Congressional report on China said recently that the Chinese could have as many as 40 million “surplus males” by 2020. These men will never get the chance to marry or have children and may lead “lost and lonely” lives, according to Washington Post reporter Mary Curtis. Sources in China say the rate of sex-selective abortion is increasing as more families become wealthy enough to afford abortions. In fact, more sex-selective abortions are taking place throughout the entire developing world for this same reason. The U.S. must take a stand against this practice that threatens the happiness of men and the dignity and safety of women around the world. We can start by banning it at home.

Elliott Pearce can be reached at Elliott.A.Pearce.12@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.