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The practice of terminating pregnancy based on the predicted sex of the baby is called Sex Selective abortion. Practice of sex selective abortion is very common is India, China, Pakistan and some other countries as well. The most common reason for the performing this act is to have male child instead of female one where their cultural norms value male child more over female child. This is about abortion, of course but it’s also a much larger problem: the worth of a woman’s life. In a culture where sons inherit properties and they carry on family name but daughters don’t, more ever girls are more vulnerable to infanticide, abuse and neglect. (CHLOE, 2011).
This paper presents how ethical is the abortions that are sex selective and what are the steps taken to prevent such practices. This will also focus on the beliefs of people of India.
The incidents of female fetuses’ abortions are recent phenomenon due to the change and development in the medical technologies and diagnosis processes. But their roots can be traced to the female infanticide. The British rulers in India noted their experiences into their diaries during their travel to India. In 1835, one of the British officials James Thompson, while speaking to the landowners of Utter Pradesh, addressed one of them to be a son-in law of other. That comment created a sarcastic laugh among the farmers. When asked for their laughs, they said that he could not be son-in-law as there were no daughters in village. Thompson added that it was considered to be a most serious calamity to have a female child. And female children were seldom allowed to live. (Miller, 1983)
Most abortions are done because of unplanned pregnancy or having a child causes danger or crisis to woman.
Therapeutic Abortions – Therapeutic abortions result from a medical reason where giving birth to a child may endanger woman’s health and life.
Selective Abortions – Selective abortion are those small fraction of abortion that occur in the cases where particular fetus is perceived as having undesirable characteristics. There are few reasons why the selective abortion is practiced.
The unborn child is a girl, and parents due to cultural or other reasons, want a boy.
When the fetus is defective.
The pregnancy is intended to give birth to a child with specific genetic properties, and fetus doesn’t have them. (Selective abortion)
According to the study published in journal The Lancet, the number of the abortions due to reason of the sex of child has been increasing in last few years and the increase in numbers are alarming. The researchers state that there have been 4 to 5 million sex selective abortion performed during last three decades and the problem is still worsening. (CHLOE, 2011)
From 2001 census of India, it’s very clear that there has been an unusual high sex ratio for the young children that have sparked the concern about the use of sex-selective abortions to satisfy parental preferences of sons. According to National Family Health Survey, also known as NFHS-2 , sex ration of male to female child is abnormally high that is 107-121 males per 100 females in 16 of India’s 26 states. There has been an extensive use of ultrasound technology and amniocentesis during pregnancy, particularly in Gujarat, Haryana and Punjab. The study also showed the ‘masculine’ SRBs and worsening or persistent female mortality disadvantage despite overall mortality decline, the reasons behind that are female child neglect and the wide spread use of female infanticide in above mentioned and other places in India (Rajan, 1999). In a study conducted, the researchers stated that after firstborn girl, selective abortions of girls have been increased in India. And most of the population of India lives in the states where selective abortions of girl child are common. (Prbhat Jha, 2011)
The future mother and father’s families attend the sex-selection testing procedures and many a times the abortion is done against the will of the mother. The government has shown red eyes to those families pressurizing the expecting mother to undergo abortion. (Quinn, 2012)
Ethical views on Abortions and Sex-selective abortions
As Rosalind Hursthouse states, any action is considered right given certain circumstances, from a virtual ethical perspective if and only if it is what the moral agent would do in same kind of circumstances. Here we will consider the case of pregnancy, when considering that when the one’s decision to abort of not is called a ‘right action’ when compared to its alternatives actions? (Caouette, 2012)
A difficult case for the defenders emerges when there is a case of abortion for the removal of unwanted fetus because the fetus is of unwanted gender: Sex selective abortion. Sex selective abortion has always meant to be the elimination of female fetuses. In some countries it is not limited to fetuses, it also extends to infanticide. Abortion means killing a person, Warren states for instance, is no more serious than killing a guppy then abortion of human because of sex differences would be permissible. Many defenders would feel uncomfortable by such a conclusion. Many thinkers hold that abortion in general is morally problematic. However some arguments against sex-selective abortions can be understood based on the only assumption that human fetus is not a person with rights, but this assumption is related to abortion in the general only not to sex-selective abortion. (Kaczor, 2011)
As here we are talking about India, we would focus more on the issues in context to India. Even though India has been worshipping Goddesses since long, some of the expectant mothers from India have been pressured by family and culture that privilege males into aborting their female fetuses. The government is becoming very strict now; new law makes the entire family to have a jail for at least 7 years, if the reason is found to be the female gender of fetus for the abortion. (Quinn, 2012)
There has been always a role of the clinician to get these all deed done. So government has also decided to fine the clinicians involved in the cases of abortion due to gender discrimination. In some less-developed part of India, a daughter is seen as a financial burden to the family members in future. The reason behind this is considered to be the culture of giving dowries at the time of marriage of the daughters. The author adds that, there are ethical questions regarding the abortions of female fetuses. The number of men in India outnumbers the number of women by 40 million. Indian government wants the women population to grow but on the other hand it is restricting the woman’s reproductive rights of allowing her what she wants to do with her body. (Quinn, 2012)
Moral and Ethical principles
According to Mettanando Bhikkhu professor at Oxford and Harvard university, there are five fundamental questions that divide the thinking, moral principles and ethics to individuals. They are:
Who am I?
What is this world?
Is there any afterlife?
What is the meaning of my life?
Why this has to happen to me?
According to the answers one give o above mentioned fundamental questions, the people can be characterized as either from a modern society or from a traditional society. The modern society believes scientifically and the traditional one has the religious views.
Abortion is considered as a eternal controversy. There have been two different views from the moral principles of the different groups.
Pro-life: The human life is very sacred. Abortion is considered morally wrong and should be criminalized as it is equal to murder.
Pro-choice: this group thinks that woman has right to terminate the pregnancy regardless of the reason for that. (Bhikkhu)
Whatever the specific reason for the abortion, most feminists believe that the women concerned are in the best position to judge whether the abortion is an appropriate response to the pregnancy or not. Generally the woman never wants abortion that is influenced by the sex of fetus. The women should get entire control on their reproductive lives and be free from male dominance or family dominance. (Dickens, 2002).
If we talk about life according to Hindu scriptures, it is basically a dualistic model consisting of atam (spirit) and prakriti (matter). According to carak samhita, a Hindu medical text, at the time of conception only the soul is already joined. Though there are different opinions regarding ensoulments in Hindu scripture. According to the Garbh Samhita, the encoulments take place in the seventh month of pregnancy. Though there are some different opinions regarding the consciousness in to the womb. Vishnu puran, a famous hindu scripture, describes the consciousness in the womb. (Moad, 2004)
The practice of abortion is negatively described in ancient Hindu scriptures, The Vedas. In the text Rg Samhit, possibly originating before 1200BC, ‘Lord Vishnu is the protector of the child re-birth’, implying that fetus actually deserved even divine reverence. While Atharva Veda expresses following plea in regard to those who perform abortion:
“With what bonds the overslaughed one is bound apart, applied and tied up on each limb – let them be released, for they are releasers; wipe off difficulties, O Pushan, on the embryo slayer.” VI-112.3
“Enter thou after the beams, the smokes, O evil; go unto the mists or also the fogs; disappear along those foams of the rivers: wipe off difficulties, O Pushan, on the embryo slayer.”VI-113.2 (Moad, 2004)
Female is seen as Goddess in Hinduism and aborting fetus because of the gender is considered a biggest sin. Evidently, embryo slayer is seen as a killer and a suitable candidate to bear sufferings and sins of the rest of vedic community. In another Hindu scripture Visnudharmasutra, one who performs abortion is similar to attempting the worst sin in Hindu society, killing a Brahmin. (Moad, 2004)
Christian and Jewish groups oppose sex-selection abortion very strongly. While the prolife-movements is pushing too hard these days leading to vote on the bill to ban the sex-selection abortions, some Christian churches remained silent on the measure and took positions opposite to it. The church belonged groups Methodist Federation for social Action, justice and witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ and Presbyterian Voices for Justice voiced their opposition to the sex-selection abortion ban. They are also supported by a number of groups including: Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, National Council of Jewish Women, and Union for Reform Judaism, Hadassah, Women of Reform Judaism, .and the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism. (Ertelt, 2012)
The Institute on Religion and Democracy asks why so many churches are not taking any stand to oppose the act of sex-selective abortions. The Institute on Religion and Democracy voted and strongly condemned sex-selective abortion as “as a particularly lamentable and violent expression of sexism.” “Churches should be among first to stand and oppose the act of sex-selective abortions” said IRD President Mark Tolley. Most of the church groups are concerned about issues like social justice and global problems that range from lack of access to drinking water to plight of those persons victimized by sex trafficking, Yet the gender-selective abortion should be considered as global problem only, Mark added. (Ertelt, 2012).
It is very clear from the sources that sex-selective abortions have been disapproved by Buddhism as well. Superficially, situation seems not unlike the Roman Catholism, where the abortion though disapproved in the strongest terms by the churches drawing a canonical tradition. The most fundamental is consciousness (vi~n~naa.na), the fifth. More ever to specify the consciousness the criteria of moral status is nearly impossible to isolate (Barnhart, 1997).
Sex-selective abortion practice in India
As there has been always a social and Indian cultural demand to have male child, there was high curiosity among the expecting parents to know the gender of fetus. So, sex determination itself became a business for the clinicians. Sex determination became big business in India after it was introduced into 1970s. The billboards were stating that, “Invest Rs.500 now and save Rs.50000 later”. These kinds of advertisements were encouraging the expecting parents and save future dowry (Kusum, 1993). Posters in the train station promoted the sex-determination together with an abortion for just Rs.70. Certain clinicians used to distribute the flyers advertising their services. (Jeffery, 1984)
However not all the clinicians are personally happy by doing these, sex determinations and abortions. (Professional obligations vs Personal ethics)
Courtesy: (Professional obligations vs Personal ethics)
To understand the practice of sex-selective abortion in India, one has to thoroughly understand the roots of cultural norms and basis of son preference in India. The concept of ‘Son Mania’ in India is multi-faceted and deeply embedded in Indian culture (Ramanamma, 1980). In the ancient India text Athrva Veda, there are mantras written to change the sex of fetus from female to girl. A son’s birth considered to be ‘a sunrise in the abode of god’ and ‘to have a son was as essential as to have food once a day’, where as daughter’s birth was considered a cause for greatest sadness and disappointment (Ramanamma, 1980).
Indian society is patrilocal, patriarchal, and patrilineal. The sons are supposed to carry family name. Sons are also charged with the duty and task to support their parents in old-age. Whereas on other hand daughters get married and become part of husbands’ family, they don’t make any further contribution to birth parents. There is a saying in India that, “bringing up a daughter is like watering to neighbor’s plant.” (Jeffery, 1984).
Since most reasons for the preference for sons are economically based, it is really very ironic to find that the extreme level of sex-ratio that is more boys to girls are found into the higher casts who tend to have wealth (Miller, 1981).
Since come into the practice, the physicians always have been a strong support to those parents who want the sex-selective abortion done. This argument also involves the right to let the families make their personal decision. If we think a case of a woman having two or three daughters and still she deliver a girl child then her life will become difficult and she will have too many daughters. One of the famous Bombay gynecologists state that, “How can you deny the mother to have a son instead of daughter? Who are we to take away her right to decide that she should have a daughter or son? It is better to get rid of the unwanted child than to suffer the whole life” (Kusum, 1993). Although practitioners might have interests in this because of financial interest, its considerable that their views will be their interest oriented rather than in the interest of overall ethical situation.
Since the problem of male to female ratio is worsening, India has shown the history of activism and policy attention to Female -selective abortions. It started all the way in 1988 from the state of Maharashtra. Maharashtra banned the use of amniocentesis for the purpose of sex-determination. Fines and prison were made mandatory for those who administer the test as well as woman and her family undergoing the test. Within the same year, there were doubts raised regarding effectiveness of the ban on the sex-determination, because the private sector remained unregulated. The lack of government action was cited by a group of activist in Mumbai, which advertised the sex-determination and sex preselection. (Miller, Female-Selective Abortion in Asia: Patterns, Policies, and Debates, 2001)
The Indian government has opposed the practice of female infanticide and the practices of sex-selective abortions, but has been very slow and ineffectual in applying the law strictly around the country. The dowry prohibition act was passed by Indian government in 1961 itself approximately a decade ago the sex-determination techniques were introduced in India. Despite its revision in 1983 and 1985, this law has been poor in implementation (Bumiller, 1990).
Maharashtra state provided the first policy model to take serious steps against these kind of practices. (Miller, Female-Selective Abortion in Asia: Patterns, Policies, and Debates, 2001)
The salient features of Maharashtra Regulation of Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques Act are as follows (Kusum, 1993):
Pre-natal diagnosis is permitted only to detect any kind of fetus abnormalities that includes sex-linked genetic diseases.
The test can only be undertaken by a high risk pregnant woman who should meet one or more of the following criteria:
Age over 35 years
History of 2 or more abortions or miscarriage
History to the exposure to any hazardous substances
Hereditary genetic disorder
The uses of all kind of prenatal diagnosis techniques are banned for the purpose of determination of sex of fetus.
Three authorities were made to operate all these policies, State Appropriate Authority, State Vigilance Committee, and Local Vigilance Committees.
The woman who experienced two or more therapeutic abortions in past technically becomes eligible under this act. Secondly, while determining the ex-linked genetic disorder the can theoretically reveal the sex of fetus to the physician. So needless to say, corruption, increased in illegal practices made the practice of sex-determination unabated. (Kusum, 1993)
Sex-selective abortion should be best called Female-selective abortions. India is a very large democracy. The laws in country are very difficult to apply thoroughly because of the corruption and such other issues in Indian government. The clinicians, most of them never apply their own ethical and moral principles to such cases, everyone is busy collecting wealth. Morally my own beliefs, my faith in my religion, my nation never allow me to attempt such sin. A son and a daughter should be considered equal. We are living in 21st century, where there is nothing that a woman cannot do and a man can do.
Personally I believe that the sex-determination should not be banned but there should be awareness among the expecting parents about the importance of life. The woman should be made think that what if her mother had aborted her?
Everyone has got right to live, to take lives, is not in our hands. There is no country in the world that has placed sex-selective abortion high on its policy agenda, though the United Nations included pre natal sex selection in its Program of Action in Cairo Conference on Population and development in 1994 (Miller, Female-Selective Abortion in Asia: Patterns, Policies, and Debates, 2001)
We should respect human rights as well. India is a developing nation and it should be thought that women are an intact part of Indian workforce.
To conclude with, I strongly take my position against the use of sex-determination and the practice of sex-selective abortion around the globe, we all will have to re-think and develop a inner sense of equality and freedom.
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