Outlawing Sex-Selective Abortion
One thing I haven’t heard from supporters of making sex-selective abortion illegal: What good would it do?
Sex-selective abortion isn’t a big problem in the United States — it does happen, but very rarely. The move to make it illegal (which failed, but I’m sure isn’t the last effort) isn’t about a repulsion at sexism, it’s about an opposition to abortion rights generally and an easy opportunity shoehorn in some restrictions (and a hostility toward non-white people doesn’t hurt, either). If Republicans really wanted to end sexism, they would support abortion rights generally — the rights to one’s own body and reproductive choices are fundamental, and barring women from those rights positions us as second-class citizens. If Republicans really wanted to end sexism, they would support a variety of feminist positions that seek to dismantle the idea that men are preferable or stronger or more capable — the ideas that underlie a preference for male babies.
Instead, Republicans want to put doctors in jail if they perform sex-selective abortions. Which puts doctors in a position of refusing to perform abortions if they know — or reasonably believe, or should have known — that the patient is having the abortion because they want a child of a particular sex. Doctors, then, are in the business of policing why patients what an otherwise legal, elective procedure; and patients, not being totally stupid, will surely catch on that they just shouldn’t say or hint at the fact that they’re terminating because of the fetus’s sex.
Now, very few people — and definitely very few feminist-minded people — think sex-selective abortion is a good thing, or even a morally neutral thing. Of course I support the legal right to choose abortion for whatever reason, but that doesn’t mean that I think every reason is a morally sound one just because a woman chooses it. I do find sex-selective abortion to be totally reprehensible. But the bigger problem isn’t an individual woman who decides to have an abortion because the fetus is female; the bigger problem is misogynist cultures that make raising a girl a burden. The solution to sex-selective abortion isn’t individual shaming; it’s big cultural shifts.
But Republicans would like to stick to the shaming. And it’s not just general woman-shaming — although of course they’re champs at that. They’re also clearly making this about race, and positioning Asian and South Asian immigrants as morally bankrupt sexists:
The debate on the House floor was brief but nasty. Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) warned of a contagion spreading from Asia. “Today the three most dangerous words in China and India are ‘It’s a girl,’ ” he said. “We can’t let that happen here.”
Spoken like someone who has no idea what he’s talking about.
True to form, Republicans are also paternalistic and condescending to women. Women who have abortions, they think, are simultaneously killing their own children and also victims of coercion by… someone:
In an interview Wednesday afternoon, Franks didn’t dispute that Asian Americans would be targeted. “The real target in the Asian community here is the Asian women who are being coerced into aborting little girls,” he told me, adding: “When the left doesn’t want to make abortion the issue, they say you’re being against minorities.”
Who exactly is coercing all of these Asian women into terminating their pregnancies? We have to assume doctors, since doctors are the ones who Franks says should be punished by jail time for the offense of performing sex-selective abortions. But that can’t be right, since abortion providers apparently aren’t pushing other racial groups to have sex-selective abortions. So women are being coerced by… their husbands, maybe? Some outside force? But of course are never actually making choices on their own. Republicans seem to think the same thing about black women, who they say are racist for having abortions:
Franks is a principled and consistent opponent of abortion, but his strategy has raised eyebrows before because of its racial component. In 2010, he said in a video interview that, because of abortion, “far more of the African American community is being devastated by the policies of today than were being devastated by the policies of slavery.” (Franks told me this does not mean African Americans were better off under slavery.)
In 2011, he championed the “Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act.” That proposal, similar to the one before the House on Wednesday, relied on the novel argument that African American mothers were discriminating against their fetuses by aborting them on the basis of race.
Anti-choice politicians want to make abortion illegal. That’s it. And they’ll appeal to broader issues like sexism and racism to make their claims, all while being mighty sexist and racist in the process. It’s an impressive performance.