Abortions: Not the Same as Sex-Selection

In the past few years, there have been several calls to stop sex-selection across Asia. The loudest and most resounding call in India came a little more than a month ago, when the new TV show, Satyameva Jayate hosted by Bollywood actor Aamir Khan, hit the screens. Khan’s popularity and emotional appeal has the whole country, and the world discussing sex-selection in India all over again.

Not soon after, the media and the government took action against abortion clinics, pharmacists selling abortion pills, and sonogram centers in an attempt to try and correct severely skewed sex ratios.

To a casual observer these attacks on the medical system might seem heroic. But these attacks are more likely to harm women, than save the gender from extinction.

It might be easy for the media and the government to create and take down a tangible villain, while ignoring the real issue – gender discrimination and systemic misogyny, both of which are spawns of any patriarchal society. But what they don’t seem to realize is that while this targeted attack might help them create much wanted discussions on the sex ratio, it almost sounds like a call to selectively ban abortions. But in a country where people still have little access to contraception, and women are victims of poverty, dependency and violence, any battle against abortion – no matter how fair it seems – is a misguided one.

Media discussions also seem to condone by exclusion crimes like female infanticide, which are still pretty rampant, as brought to light by the case of young Afreen, whose father battered her to death. Similarly, the villages with no women as shown on Aamir Khan’s show aren’t the result of abortion alone: 19th century memoirs of British soldiers show such villages existed long before sonograms and abortions became available.

There is no denying that the ratios have become worse in recent times, since sonograms became available. But, a crackdown on abortions and ultrasonography does nothing to correct the sex ratio. In fact, it only worsens a woman’s chance at a healthy life, by driving sex selection underground: women will be forced to choose unsafe options of abortion, which put their lives at risk.

Abortions have to be contextualized better, and presented in a more comprehensive way in discussions on sex-selection. Else before we know it, we’ll be missing more women than just the unborn girls.

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