Friday, August 28, 2009

Sex-selection: A brain-bending intersection of ideals.

You will find few experts who will spout definitive answers around the subject of sex-selection. The topic is neither simple, nor clean-cut along lines of political beliefs or moral values.

Some view the issue as a matter of simple economics: Bioethicist Jacob M. Appel posits that if governments were to offer financial incentives for having female children, the gender imbalance currently happening as a result of sex-selection would even itself out. But does this view leave out some very important aspects of the issue? Sex-selection often comes from deeply-rooted cultural traditions. While these traditions are often influenced by economic factors, such as dowries and inheritance, how much does it have to do with a more underlying view of a woman’s role in society?

Passing anti-sex-selection legislation is a tactic that many experts on the subject believe to be questionable, at best. That hasn’t stopped legislators from trying, however. U.S. Representative Trent Franks (R- Ariz.) has introduced federal legislation that would make it illegal to terminate a pregnancy, based on the sex or race of a fetus. Franks is hardly the first person to have gone down the policy road. There are a large handful of countries that have some sort of law on the books relating to sex-selection - including Australia, China, India, and Canada - and just earlier this year Oklahoma passed a bill banning sex-selective abortions. Though there’s some research on how well sex-selection laws work, there’s still a lot to learn, and a lot of the effects are not so easily measured.

Perhaps the most high profile dilemma concerning sex-selection is its intersection with the pro-choice community. How does this fit into the feminist perspective of a woman having autonomy when it comes to her own body? Hillary Clinton recently spoke out against sex selection and her comments have been labeled by anti-abortion groups as “traitorism in the ranks of the abortion advocates.” Is it not possible to have a nuanced view on such a highly contentious issue as abortion?

The most important thing, it seems, is to allow the debate to have its own framework. To recognize that the world of assisted reproductive technology is ever-changing and that the way in which we approach a dialogue on these issues must change along with it.


  1. Laurie, you provided insight into a conflict recently acted out in Oklahoma. A sex-selection abortion ban passed earlier this year. No matter the reason for abortion, it is a woman's private choice. It is a slippery slope to impose restrictions on the reasons why someone has an abortion. Banning abortions due to the gender of the fetus can easily become "You can't have an abortion because you say you can't afford a child." which eventually becomes a complete ban on abortion. Whether a woman chooses to have an abortion because of the sex of the fetus, she isn't ready to have a child, she can't afford to have a child, or she is a victim of rape, it's her decision to make. Thank you for the post.

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