Sometime back Gounder Brownie did a post on abortion, in which she raised a lot of interesting questions on the ethical side of it. It’s certainly a dicey topic and one that is difficult to be completely objective about . Like everyone I too have had conflicting thoughts about abortion over the years.
In school I was vaguely pro-life, and so were most of my friends. It could have been due to our attending a Roman Catholic institution and being still too naive to question received wisdom, it could have been the idealism of early youth. In any case, my crossing over to the other camp happened very gradually– looking back, I think it was only after I became a mother myself, when it was brought home to me how difficult childbearing was even when one fully wanted it, that I became unequivocally pro-choice. From one end of the pendulum to the other, as it were.
Over the last few years, however, I have been veering towards the mean position of the pendulum as I became aware that a no-holds-barred pro-choice position was as fraught with ethical issues as its antithesis. And GB’s post made me realize that my own views on the subject were quite a bundle of contradictions.
Now, it is mostly assumed that the decision to abort is a difficult one, and I do believe that for the most part it is, but what about women who casually abort pregnancies occurring not due to contraceptive failure but a failure to use contraceptives in the first place? We know this is not an uncommon scenario. I have personally known at least two women who did just this–one of them was my domestic helper many years back. Both women had a similar story to tell–they could not use the IUD due to recurring infections, and pills gave both of them severe headache and nausea. So all they did was pray that they didn’t get pregnant. Their prayers, inevitably, failed every few months.
Well, what of them? Subjecting your body to such an atrocity is without doubt a terrible thing to do. It is definitely not advisable , just as drug-abuse and suicide cannot be advisable. Surely these women can find ONE way of contraception that suits them– I’d say they are in dire need of counseling.
But the reason I find it reprehensible has entirely to do with the harm such women cause themselves and nothing to do with the fact that so many fetuses are deprived of life– somehow I cannot bring myself to feel for fetuses under ten weeks any more than I feel for the human ovum being deprived of life by not getting a chance to be fertilised and ending up in a period. Or about the millions of spermatozoa dying away when prevented from fertilising the ovum. In any case only one out of those millions gets to live under the best conditions, but that is beside the point. The point is, we cannot begin to mourn the loss of every bit of life. Ultra-right zealots of various denominations try to do just that, and oppose even contraception on that very ground. Thankfully, the majority of humankind has better sense than to listen to them.
If the woman in a case like this is more than ten weeks along when she comes around to abort, well, too bad for her own body as well as for the fetus, but it is still her choice. The fact that the MTP Act mentions lists only failure of contraception, and not failure to use contraception, as one of the valid reasons fro abortion, means nothing because it just cannot be proved. In any case I do mostly feel that a woman should have the right to abort for no other reason than her not wanting the baby.
And then there is the sticky issue of fetal reduction, a term I became familiar with only recently. Apparently, women who undergo infertility treatments often get multiple pregnancies, and to make it less difficult for the mother, some fetuses are terminated while the others are kept. This may be medically advised or might simply be the choice of the parents.
Now fetal reduction is something that makes me uncomfortable. I don’t quite know why, and I know I am venturing into pro-life territory here. Maybe because in these cases the parents obviously want a child and are undergoing treatment towards that end–and multiple pregnancies are almost part of the deal. Or maybe it is the randomness that bothers me–the fact that one of the same lot gets to live while the other does not. But then what if someone becomes pregnant not with twins or triplets but octuplets, noneplets or more-plets–wouldn’t that necessitate fetal reduction in the interest of the mother’s health and better fetal viability? I guess so.
Which brings us to abortion in case of congenital and potentially fatal heart conditions/ debilitating genetic disorders/ other kinds of fetal abnormality. Of course abortions are totally in order, and in fact medically advised, in case such fetal conditions come to light in ultrasound scans and if the parents so desire— what would be the point of pre-natal diagnostics if the options of either remedy in utero or termination were to not exist? But then it is increasingly being asked whether the reasons put forward to dispose of a fetus with a deformity couldn’t be applied to a female fetus–severe drain on resources, difficult to raise et al. So why don’t we allow a woman who does not want to have a girl, to abort?
It is here, I think, that the pro-choice argument runs into trouble. How to reconcile choice with the need to prevent gendercide? Well, the fact is that they cannot be reconciled. I am afraid sex-selective abortions have become a stick in the hands of pro-lifers to beat pro-choice people with. I am also afraid that they do have a point.
There are limits to the pro-choice line of thought, and those limits lie at sex-selective abortions and whim-abortions( not wanting to have a baby with a crooked nose/ dark skin/red hair/black-brown-grey eyes–you get the drift). I am convinced, and have always been convinced, that such choices are invalid. Why? Let me try and answer that.
–It’s not fair to suggest that the parents of girls in India face the same kind of challenges as parents of differently-able kids do. That’s just not true. Being female in itself is not a disability by a long stretch. Raising girls requires no more effort or money than boys. The whole marriage/dowry angle is a social construct which it is perfectly possible, even if not exactly easy, to avoid.
— I may sound moralistic, but I do believe that if a couple want a child, they just have to be prepared to have a child of either sex, even if they have a preference for one particular sex. It may be likened to a game of dice–you can choose not to play at all but once you do, you must be prepared for unfavourable outcomes in terms of gender and external features which are trivial in the sense that they do not require lifelong or extensive care or treatment and do not affect life-expectancy.
— Through the millenia, sex-ratio has shown a tendency to bounce back to decent levels despite invasions, wars and calamities. Sex-ratio is self-stabilizing if given half a chance, and this has played no mean role in the survival of the human race, which , of course, includes women. The problem is, it’s not getting even that half a chance to correct itself given India’s morbid hatred for daughters. which is why tough and tougher measures are entirely called for. One cannot be allowed to make choices that in effect put the very survival of their species at risk.
In this context, I am reminded of the food rationing that happened in WW II Britain when people weren’t allowed to buy more than the specified amount of food/other essential items even if they could afford it. Given the wartime food scarcity, it was understood that in the absence of any kind of control, all the food would be bought off the stores by the rich, leaving the poor high and dry. The rich couldn’t be allowed to choose to buy all the food they could buy. Sometimes choices have to be sacrificed in the larger good of the society.
As it is, whatever little the government is doing to prevent gendercide is clearly not helping matters enough– I am sure it could do a lot better if only it had enough will– and I shudder to think of what would happen if sex-selective abortions were to be made legal. Taking the stigma of illegality out of sex-selective abortions might well make it shoot through the roof. Women might find themselves being coaxed and forced to ‘choose’ not to bear girl children–(“It is legal, after all!”) While I agree that changing the mindset of the people is the best way of countering the problem, I also strongly feel that while the mindset remains what it is, anti-sex-selection laws must hold.
So I am all for bestowing personhood on a fetus in anti-sex-selection ads, as also making use of loaded terms like bhroona- hatya , as long as they evoke horror and dissuade even a single parent from going for sex-selection– even though I am aware that a twelve week fetus is far from being a person. I am totally bugged by suggestions that those who abort female fetuses because they want no daughters should not be blamed, that they are actually only victims of vicious societal restrictions and so on. Of course they must be blamed, caught and punished. Anything and everything that adds more muscle to the PNDT Act and leads to better implementation is in order, because as far as I see, this is nothing less than a war being waged against women, and war-like situations demand drastic measures. If thinking so makes me any less of a feminist, so be it.