“I just strangled it soon after it was born,” she says.
On the edge of a lush, green field in Southern India, a woman smiles as she talks into a camera. The shades of pink in her saree shine brilliantly in the bright sunlight. With her husband standing nearby, she speaks with an eerie calm about the small row of graves that lie a few feet away in the dark cool of the shade.
Unfazed by the gruesomeness of her tale, she continues: “I would kill and bury it …I killed eight girl children.”
In a culture driven by a deeply entrenched bias for boys, this woman was prepared to kill until she gave birth to one. If she had been given access to prenatal testing and abortion, she likely would have ended the lives of her girls in the womb. Societies with strong preferences for male children (like China and India) routinely use infanticide and abortion to eliminate unwanted girls. What is startling is that this occurs at every level of society, educated as well as poor. Improvements in the availability of prenatal testing have dramatically increased the likelihood of abortion being used for such discriminatory reasons. Calling it gendercide, the United Nations reports that as many as 126 million girls are missing across the globe. A documentary on the subject observes that the three most dangerous words in the world today are “it’s a girl.”
Here in the US, there has been a growing awareness of the dangerous link between abortion and discrimination. At least 10 states have passed legislation that would ban abortion based on race, sex, and/or disability. These bans intend to forestall here the kind of discrimination happening around the world.
While it is heartening to see US states pass these bans, there is a deeper connection between abortion and discrimination buried within our culture that remains unseen. Every abortion entails an insidious form of discrimination that flies under the radar for most Americans, and this, despite being a culture that is committed to opposing discrimination in any form. Like the woman in India, cultural prejudice blinds us to the injustice our nation allows on a daily basis. Since the passage of Roe v. Wade, our culture justifies abortion for the sake of a deep-rooted bias, not in favor of a certain gender, race, or level of health, but for a false view of the role that choice plays in women’s rights.
The cost of this bias is measured in the human lives that abortion ends.
Many pro-choice feminists recognize this fact. British journalist Antonia Senior writes that when she became pregnant with her first child, the abstract concept of a fetus became unavoidably real. “My daughter was formed at conception,” she concedes. “Any other conclusion is a convenient lie that we on the pro-choice side of the debate tell ourselves to make us feel better about the action of taking a life.”
Yet, for pro-choice feminists like Senior, women’s rights are inextricably linked to abortion. Senior asserts that her freedom to end her pregnancy is more important than the human life that is ended with it. “The single biggest factor in women’s liberation,” she says, “was our newly found ability to impose our will on our biology.” Remove abortion, it is claimed, and all will be lost. She writes that for the cause of women’s liberation we “must be prepared to kill.”
This is a sickening addendum to original feminist aims of fighting violence, discrimination, and injustice in all its forms.
What drives support for abortion here in the West is an obsession with individual choice. This bias is changing how we define the concept of women’s rights so much that women perceive protecting choice as more important than human lives in the womb. This bias is leading us to discriminate against unborn human beings by denying their lives protection. Their lives can be ended for any reason.
How is this any less appalling than what is happening in other countries? Like those in India who are ready to kill for the cause of a son, feminists are ready to kill for a woman’s right to choose. And it has been normalized to such an extent that we do not see it, like the woman in the pink saree.
As important as gains in women’s equality are, if they can only come at the cost of the most vulnerable population amongst us, they are tainted gains. We should challenge the assertion that the cause for women’s rights can only be advanced with abortion. We must question our bias for individual choice, rooting out the ways in which it leads us to oppress those more vulnerable than us.
As women, we should have no part in “empowerment” that comes at another human being’s expense. This isn’t empowerment, but a power grab of the same kind that is used to oppress women in the rest of the world. With abortion, we are fighting discrimination against women with a deadlier and more violent form of discrimination against the unborn.
Instead of killing unborn babies to make the lives of women better here in the US, we should take the harder road of creating a culture and economic system that enables women to participate in meaningful work while still raising their own children. Abortion enables an anti-family, anti-pregnancy bias in our economy and culture like it enables the anti-girl bias in India.
Anti-discrimination bans recognize the fact that there is an unavoidable link between abortion and discrimination. Ironically, the one thing that Western feminists hold as essential to their freedom, is the greatest weapon used to discriminate against women in the rest of the world. Buried beneath this irony is a darker truth. Every abortion is an egregious act of discrimination, whether it involves a preference for boys or a preference for individual choice. It is time we dig deeper and uncover the falsities of our own rationalizations when it comes to abortion in the US. Until we disrupt the ties between women’s rights and abortion, we are no better than the Indian woman who smiled over the graves of her murdered daughters.