Saturday, January 28, 2012
Baby girls are great. A female fetus is nothing. Or so the argument goes...
If it was possible to measure the surreal, I suspect we’d find there had been a record output of the stuff ever since the Canadian Medical Association raised the issue of sex selection as it relates to abortion. The arguments since have been fast and furious. What’s remarkable is how they keep to the perimeter of the issue rather than deal with the core of the debate. Which is, of course, pretty consistent with the entire world of abortion.
The CMA suggested that women not be told the gender of the anticipated child until 30 weeks into their pregnancy, in order to avoid them seeking abortions based on the sex of the child. This has set off the following debates:
1. Is it discriminatory to make such a suggestion, given that such requests are generally considered to come mainly from cultures in which girls are viewed as inferior to boys?
2. Is it racist to even mention #1, since it makes a clear distinction between women from different cultures?
3. Is it hypocritical to criticize women for aborting females, but not for aborting on the basis of feared physical or mental handicaps? Is it wrong for women themselves to make that distinction?
4. Is it wrong to have the discussion at all, given that it implies the right to question a woman’s right to abort for any reason she chooses?
5. Is it contradictory to question the validity of abortion based on gender, given that other means of sex selection — such as gender-selective in vitro fertilization – are deemed acceptable?
All of which are diverting enough, but conveniently avoid the core of the issue. Because if it is acceptable to abort, it is acceptable to abort for any reason. Worrying about the reasons for abortion become entirely irrelevant as soon as you accept the pro-choice argument that a) none of it is any of your business, period, and b) the abortion debate is closed because everyone agrees.
The degree of debate that’s been going on since the CMA recommendation demonstrates once again that the issue is not, in fact, closed, and that Canadians don’t really know what they think about abortion. Let me amend that: I suspect a lot of Canadians, in their heart, in fact have very strong doubts about the moral implications of taking away the life of another human, whether you call it a fetus or a child. But few want to brave the political storm that arises at the mention of the issue, and so keep their doubts to themselves.
The doubts come out, though, whenever a new wrinkle arises. A poll taken in the wake of the CMA recommendation finds that more than half of Canadians favour some limits on abortion (in the media, which has been conditioned to accept the pro-choice position, this is characterized as “only” 51%, as if more than half was inconsequential). Only 37% agree with the current lack of any restrictions. When more than half the country chooses one political party over the others, it gets to form the government; when it comes to abortion, the 37% wins.
The number favouring “some” restrictions rises to 66% when Canadians are asked about the sex-selection issue. Which implies that some people feel it’s OK to abort a child for no reason, but not for a discriminatory reason. Interestingly, women are slightly more in favour of restrictions than men, perhaps because men have learned by now that they’re supposed to say “it’s a woman’s right to choose” whenever someone mentions the word “abortion.” If the question was re-worded to something along the lines of: “Do you agree that a woman would have to right to abort your child, and you have no say in the matter?”, I suspect the male response would be somewhat different.
The reason for all this ambivalence is evident in the details of the CMA proposal itself. It suggests waiting until 30 weeks, because most doctors won’t perform an abortion that late in the game, even if they’re allowed to. Because by then the “fetus” has miraculously been transformed into a “baby.” It has become human. A person in its own right. No one is sure at what exact moment this takes place, or how it happens, or what the difference is other than some organ development, or why organ development should be the basis on which to define human life, but if you abort one moment before it happens, the argument goes, you’re just getting rid of some cells. If you abort an instant later, you’re killing a child. Pro-choice people hate anyone pointing this out to expectant mothers, because it muddies the clarity of the argument as they like to present it. But the more the debate centres on people — i.e. girl babies versus boy babies — the more it underlines the reality of what women are doing when they head to the abortionist. All the rest if just a diversion.