Sex-Based Abortion Legislation: WTF?

Faithful blog readers, I need your help understanding something. My "gender" Google news feed has been blowing up lately with stories regarding the legislation of sex-based abortions. Apparently, such abortions have recently been ruled illegal in Sweden and legal in Oklahoma.

Now, I understand there being concern over sex-based abortions. Technology is advancing at a rate that allows possible potential parents to learn the sex of their fetus earlier and earlier all the time -- often with enough time to legally abort the fetus if they are unhappy with the sex. It is awful that anyone anywhere would value one sex of a fetus over another, and I get why people don't like that idea (I don't like it myself). In fact, we wrote about it a little bit on this very blog a while back.

What I don't understand, though, is how the motivations behind an abortion can be legislated. Isn't that like arresting someone for thoughtcrime? How can the state decide whether or not a pregnant person's motivations are good enough to warrant an abortion? I am seriously confused, so if any of you legal smarties out there have any insight, help a sister out.

I guess that the ruling in Sweden, which took place earlier this week, came about because a woman asked for an amniocentesis and, upon learning the sex of her fetus, asked for an abortion. Some time later, the same thing happened with the same woman. A Swedish health professional asked if it was legal to deny someone an abortion if you disagree with their motivations. The answer from the National Board of Health & Welfare? Nej! Well, actually they said,

it is illegal to deny a woman an abortion up to her 18th week of pregnancy even if her request is based on a sex preference.

I understand all of that. I think it's kind of weird that it was up for debate in the first place, since denying someone a legal right based on their personal motivations is ridiculous, but whatever. What I don't understand, however, is the ruling that took place this morning in Oklahoma. According to Tulsa World News,

The Oklahoma Senate on Friday passed a bill that would ban abortion based on gender.

House Bill 1595, by Sen. Todd Lamb, R-Edmond, and Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Tulsa, also requires physicians to provide detailed information to the Oklahoma State Department of Health about the abortion.

Apparently, it is not only the winds come sweeping down the plain in Oklahoma (Orwellian abortion legislation is sweeping through there as well). This f*ed up bill, by the way, also requires doctors and patients to report way more information regarding abortions -- and the info will be made available online. You know, so the state can keep track (and so that potential internet dates can check into whether or not you've had an abortion).

What I don't understand is how the reasons behind the possible abortion factor in here at all. Maybe the person(s) in question want the abortion because of sex, maybe it's because of finances, maybe it's for an art project. The bottom line is, it's none of our business, and the state shouldn't be able to value some motivations more highly than others when it comes to legislation. Isn't that itself illegal?

So can anyone help me out here? How can Oklahoma pass this bill? Is this legal? WTF?

by Kelsey Wallace
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12 Comments Have Been Posted

To cloud the issue a little

To cloud the issue a little further, what if a woman wants to abort a male because there's a much greater risk for a certain genetic illness for males in her family? How does the OK law deal with a situation like that? Very sticky.

Complication After Complication

It's just adding more complication to the already-complicated issue of abortion, I think.
And when it comes to the idea of "gathering information" on women aborting, an article in Tulsa World stated that it was to be used to get better information on why women abort. Which is understandable, but it shouldn't be mandatory. The article states many things they will now ask, including (but not limited to) the messed up questions of the woman's education level, her marital status, her relationship with the father, and-of course-why she's aborting.

I'm glad to see Bitch brought this issue up. My mother called me instantaneously after reading the article to rant about it, and I posted my own blog on myspace about it, which had only one posted response: "Blah blah blah. Too long, didn't read."

A Very Dissappointed Oklahoman

sex selective abortion and india

Sex selective abortion has been illegal in India for a while now because the preference for male children has caused a significant gender disparity in particularly parts of the country. Basically the legislation makes using ultrasound technology to determine the sex of the fetus illegal. This doesn't mean doctors don't tell people who are willing to give a little <i>baksheesh</i> the sex, however, and this issue has sparked a huge movement against "female feticide" in India.

Michelle Goldberg's <i>The Means of Reproduction</i> has a decent discussion about this issue in India. (You can read <a href=" interview w/ her at RH Reality Check</a> that touches on it.) Also, Rita Banerjee, who just published a book called <i>Sex and Power</i> runs the <a href="">50 Million Missing</a> campaign here that hopes to raise awareness and instigate social change.

My point is that this may lend some insight into some of the more detrimental effects of this type of legislation and why it may not be legislating intention, but rather legislating against gender bias and those potential detrimental effects. I'm not saying I think this is the best way to curb gender bias or the effects of it. I'm just identifying this as one possible perspective.

Anything to ban abortions!

Who is REALLY surprised that they are limiting woman's rights in OK? Because that is ALL this is- another way to stop abortions. How are they going to enforce this one? I can see it now- legally making some woman to keep a baby they don't want because the doctor thinks the woman just doesn't want a boy/girl. Who's word will rule the decision? How would it be proven? Sounds like a law that will get struck down in the future (I hope).

Yes, its messed up to abort a fetus because of its sex, but last I checked, its legal, for any reason. A persons motivations are NOT to be put on trial- can you imagine- you can't get an abortion because your boyfriend wants the baby (men's rights), or because of of other reason (you aren't poor) that seems unreasonable to others?

I am not one for "slippery slope" type of arguments, but in this case, ANY REASON anti-choicers can find to LIMIT a woman's right to control their body/fate, they will take.



I'm a bit confused. I thought that after the first trimester you could only abort a fetus if it wasn't viable (per Roe V. Wade). It doesn't seem right that anyone should be allowed to terminate a pregnancy based on the sex. But It is true that taking away that right would lead to another whole slew of rights being crushed by doctors who would question any reason for an abortion. How do you determine what is a "good reason" for an abortion and what is not? Should a distinction be made? If we make a distinction, how many poor women would fall through the cracks? If we don't, then where is the line drawn on needless, senseless, and selfish abortions?
It's a pretty sticky one.

Agreed. Legally speaking,

Agreed. Legally speaking, you can't take away a woman's right to choose; however, is it in the spirit of the law for a woman to choose the gender of her child? It seems to be only superficially related as we would be picking the 'correct' child as opposed to saying the circumstances for me bearing a child at all are inappropriate at this time. The argument I'm sure they're tripping over themselves to expound upon is that, if you so intently want a boy, perhaps you should adopt one. If passed, a law of this nature might find its way to the supreme court. Unfortunately, SCOTUS is held by a conservative majority (generally speaking), and Roe V. Wade could potentially be overturned. To read the article, though, the law sounds like an utter invasion of privacy, and a thorough compromise of doctor-patient confidentiality; but, will be passed regardless because it is Oklahoma.


Interesting! I've never had to think of this from a western-world perspective, as I hear most about it in countries such as China and India where the number of girls born is very, very unbalanced and going to end up causing massive problems for the next generations, because boys are so valuable (but now who will they marry? China especially is headed towards a major problem.)

As a pro-choice person, it's interesting that i don't believe in pro-choice in all circumstances, necessarily. While girls born to families who don't want them would face a hard life (and many will be "taken care of" the old fashioned way and killed at birth (in which case is abortion not a more humane solution for the poor child?), this technology can throw off the balance of male/female ratios, which the males will not appreciate of their parents once they grow up. Because it's an unnatural technological tool I do think there should be some ethical rules to go along with it or our techno-meddling could alter humanity in the negative.

But it's also such an incredibly easy rule to take advantage of, especially in western countries like America. Doctors who don't support abortion could say "Oh, you're having a boy/girl and it also has (insert serious problem)" and then they can argue that it's a sex-based decision, even if it's not. And being able to choose the sex of the baby due to preference is just the first step of genetically engineering humans which I also do not agree with.

It just shows how much work we need to do to get humanity up to the level of technology, where we wouldn't have to worry about these sorts of abuses (in my opinion?) of the technology.

So its gray-area situations like this where I can see multiple sides, and can have a hard time picking a side myself. It's definitely food for thought. Thanks for this post!

mixed feelings

I don't think that most parents would treat their child badly because they didn't come out the sex they wanted. People have been disappointed with the results for years and have ended up loving their child more than anything and usually say that they wouldn't have changed it for anything. However I do think that without this law, as much as it sucks, people will feel more guilty or regretful later on when the "boy they never wanted" does something bad, because then they know there is something they could have done. I'm prochoice, but I'm starting to think that if we can't handle the freedom to choose for genuine reasons as opposed to selfish ones that could potentially severely alter humanity, well then maybe standards need to be in place. I mean abortion is not a pretty thing. And really shouldn't be done unless the mother feels she cannot handle it or something is seriously wrong with the mother or fetus. Abortion based on sex is the lowest and most disgusting form of sexism I've ever heard of.

Making Women Lie

How often does a women seeking an abortion tell her doctor, 'I want an abortion because I don't want a boy/girl'? I would think this law would encourage women to give false information to their doctor (possibly about a family history of gender-specific disease) that could lead to inappropriate medical care later. How would the doctor find out the truth, and what would the consequences be if it was discovered the woman lied about gender preference as her reason for an abortion? I'm just picturing a law requiring women to have lie-detector tests before they are granted their rights (much like other 'mandatory waiting period' regulations, designed to deny women their rights by ensuring by the time they can get the procedure, it is legally too late). Not to mention the inherent risks involved in posting women's personal medical information online, where hackers delight in breaking into systems.

laws/policies are limited in addressing sex-selection

I'm a bit late to the comments here, but I just spent a great deal of time writing my master's thesis on sex-selective abortion. I think this is a challenging issue, because it's hard to do the calculus of preserving women's reproductive autonomy, agency, and choice while also working to redress gender inequality at birth -- especially in cultures (such as is the case in parts of India) where women and girls are so devalued that males are being selected for better survival odds (from conception onwards). There are areas of India where sex ratios at birth and during childhood are so incredibly skewed -- 150 males for every 100 females born, when a biologically natural sex ratio at birth is 105 males for every 100 females -- that it is having a serious demographic impact. It's one manifestation of gender-based violence. Some gruops in India have been calling for increased abortion restrictions, but in my opinion, that's not the best solution to the problem -- especially in countries and cultures where access to safe abortion is limited at best.

In India, doctors are not allowed to disclose the sex of a fetus during prenatal diagnostic examinations. Although this law is not well enforced, this is a better approach to dealing with the issue because it doesn't force women into such a hard spot. The idea is that the health profession should be held accountable for non-medical use of reproductive technologies.

In countries like Sweden, the UK, the U.S., etc., this is a tricky issue because it primarily affects immigrants from South Asia.

On a broad scale, I think the best response to the issue is to continue to do feminist work -- to continue to work to elevate women's status, and eradicate gender-based barriers to education, work, etc. We have to work collectively to increase the cultural value of girls. Policies and laws will only go so far in addressing the problem, especially if they are not enforced -- what we need is a cultural shift, and to make the births of female children just as desirable and celebrated as the births of male children.

This is an emotional issue -

This is an emotional issue - and I know that any form of abortion restriction strikes a very raw note with Americans. A ban on sex-selective abortion in India is a feminist law. It is a law that has been called for, lobbied for, and praised by every major feminist organization in India. It has the support of every prominent female politician, and no one will propose repealing it in the foreseeable future.

Sex selective abortion is a product of Indian society's natural affinity for men over women.

This law is the only effective way to prevent sex-selective abortion, which is just discrimination against women taken to its logical, ghastly conclusion. And if discrimination in the workplace needs legislation, then this abominable form certainly does too. I don't know how someone can support the violence against women act, and not support this.

There are no reasonable counterarguments to be made here- and I challenge someone to think of any.

First of all, I might say

First of all, I might say that I'm a pro-life person. I am totally against any form of abortion, but this gender-based absolutely ranks as the most selfish of all abortion acts. To my mind, sex selective abortion is simply evil and may cause fatal social and demographic consequences in future. Fetus is not worthy of life because it does not have a penis????!!! I think women make the world a beautiful place to live in.

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