The “pro-choice” approach affords two possible reactions: Support women who choose sex-selective abortion, even if motivated by patriarchy, or suggest, patronizingly, that cultural considerations prevent “Third World” women from exercising meaningful individual choice. Other responses are compromised by the fear that the hard-won “right to choose” has enough detractors without feminists themselves questioning its appropriateness.
The difficulty of applying “choice” to sex-selective abortions provides ammunition to antiabortion activists, who argue that sex selection is yet another ugly aspect of abortion. These commentators, giddy at finding a fault line in the “choice” argument, say: If there were no abortion, there would be no sex-selective abortion. This simplistic line ignores the reality for pretty much any woman who undergoes such a procedure.
Sex-selective abortions, and perhaps abortion more generally, cannot be intelligently debated within a binary framework that constricts thinking. And criminalization, regulation and decriminalization are all inadequate responses to sex selection. Criminalization punishes women, who are victims of a double bind; it threatens women’s health by pushing them to illegal providers; and it harbors the danger of encouraging practices such as infanticide (as noted in India). Regulation could also endanger women’s health by limiting access to important information, threatening doctor-patient confidentiality and opening women to harassment. Active decriminalization of sex-selective abortions validates society’s prejudice against female children and fails to provide legal protection to those women who might be coerced into sex-selective abortions by their families. It is imperative to consider non-legal avenues that address sex selection.
Women, and their men, must be supported in bringing about societal change, in distinguishing true cultural heritage from patriarchy shrouded by the cultural argument. Advocates, whether motivated by pro- or anti-choice convictions, should support attacks on all forms of patriarchy, instead of simply locking horns with sex selection. Without assuring women security, honor and prestige regardless of the choice (son or daughter) they make, any law or campaign attacking sex selection will be unsuccessful — but also ineffective and unfair.