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The Sex-Selection Red Herring


William Saletan attempts a gotcha on people who oppose criminalizing abortion:

Today, let’s turn the tables on those of us who oppose abortion regulation. How far should we go? Would you oppose regulation even of abortions aimed at preventing the births of girls? Because there’s increasing evidence that such abortions, which take place by the millions in Asia, are now being done by the thousands in the United States as well.

I think I’ve been through this before, but:

  • Let’s assume arguendo that abortion for sex selection is immoral, or at least that choosing abortion because you don’t value female children is immoral.
  • This is neither here not there in terms of legal regulation, because it’s obviously impossible to ban such abortions through an enforceable legislative enactment. If abortions for certain reasons were banned, women could just refuse to be candid, and how could you prove they were lying? In addition, this would involve putting a great deal of legal discretion in the hands of panels of doctors, which would mean a great deal of arbitrary intrusion on a woman’s right to choose for no obvious benefit.
  • The fundamental problem that creates systematic sex biases in choosing abortion is that girls and women are less valued, and as long as this kind of sexist discrimination is common it will be impossible to regulate away through abortion codes. So the additional question one has to ask themselves is whether passing additional regulations of abortion is more likely to make women equal members of society? This question answers itself. Using these moral dilemmas to bootstrap additional abortion regulations, as is almost always the case, would not merely be useless but actively counterproductive.

UPDATE: A good discussion about why bans on sex-selection abortions don’t work.

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