We’ve known for years that the selective abortion of female foetuses is a common practice in cultures where the economic value of women is considered lower than men. In many Middle Eastern and Indian cultures parents live with their sons and their daughter-in-laws. Their sons are valued for their ability to provide a secure and comfortable retirement. The more sons one has, the more secure and comfortable the retirement, and the more daughter-in-laws to provide the domestic duties. Daughters also require an expensive dowry in India, but in Middle Eastern cultures the future husband buys his wife. This may be why India has more gender-based abortion than the Gulf States.
The problem is worse in China where the one child policy has exacerbated the problem. In some provinces the ratio is 130 boys to 100 girls, whereas we would normally expect a ratio of 103 to 108 boys to every 100 girls. Other East Asian countries, including Taiwan and Singapore, former communist states in the western Balkans and the Caucasus, and even sections of America’s population (Chinese- and Japanese-Americans, for example) all have distorted sex ratios (reference). The statistics don’t seem to reveal much evidence of gendercide in the UK, with the exception of the figure for Chinese immigrants (109 boys to 100 girls). Gendercide exists on almost every continent. It affects rich and poor; educated and illiterate; Hindu, Muslim, Confucian and Christian alike.
So gender-based abortions around the world are carried out primarily for economic reasons. Perhaps a better way to reduce this practice is to increase the economic value of women by social change, rather than by draconian abortion law?
Abortion is often carried out for other economic reasons, including in the UK, where any two doctors can argue that allowing a pregnancy to go to term is more dangerous for the mother than an early abortion. The fact that a full pregnancy is also now very safe seems to be irrelevant in this argument. The UK effectively has abortion on demand. Many UK abortions are carried out because the future child (boy or girl) is inconvenient to the mother’s current economic circumstances, education or career. In the rich world, where another pregnancy is unlikely to result in a threat to the mother’s health or cause her real poverty, this amounts to a lifestyle choice. Exactly the same philosophy results in gendercide when extended into cultures where boys are more economically beneficial than girls.
This may be pointing to a conclusion that abortion is morally wrong and should therefore be heavily restricted. However, by restricting something that is wrong is not necessarily right. Often the restrictions make matters worse. As a society Britain has reluctantly agreed that abortion is a necessary evil. This is often for good practical reasons rather than good moral ones e.g. : to prevent dangerous amateur abortions; protect women’s physical and mental health; prevent many unwanted children being brought up by reluctant mothers; acknowledging pregnant women can travel abroad for abortions…..and a recognition that women are valuable economic members of our society, who have their own rights and a vote. So let’s be clear that British society has not decided that the lifestyle of the mother is worth more than the life of the future baby. It has decided that making abortion illegal is worse than making it legal.
But perhaps even more could be done to stop women having unwanted pregnancies in the first place?
As a society we should work very hard to ensure that abortion is safe, legal and very rare.