Sex Selection, Feminism and Abortion

            Sin has a way of undoing itself. Jacques Mallet du Pan was a Huguenot who saw the folly of the French Revolution, and in 1793 made the acute and oft-repeated observation that ‘the Revolution devours its children’. Earlier, while looking to the Trojan war, Shakespeare had written that power at last must ‘eat up himself’. There is an ancient Egyptian symbol called Ouroboros, a serpent that devours its own tail. In the Bible, the Psalmist writes of the wicked man who makes a pit and then falls into it (Ps.7:15; see Prov.26:27) – like Haman who was hanged on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai (Esther 7:10). 

This theme surely must arise in any discussion of the links between feminism and sex selection abortion. One senses a pronounced uneasiness in the consciences of some feminists. Leslie Cannold, for example, portrays abortion as an act of kindness – but is also concerned that sex-selection abortion is an assault on women. Janet Hadley goes further and protests: ‘A society which tolerates female infanticide or abortion of female fetuses holds women in contempt, whatever status women may achieve as mothers of sons.’ Yet she fears that banning sex-selection abortions will drive a wedge into other abortion laws.

In recent decades China and India have used ultrasounds to detect females in the womb, leading to more abortions. One Chinese dissident, Chi An, tells of rampant female infanticide, living babies being thrown out with the rubbish, and babies about to be born being injected with formaldehyde. As long ago as 2013 there was evidence of India’s ‘60 million women that never were’.

The unease about abortion, especially its effect on women, has long been there for all with eyes to see. The United States has witnessed the rise of a ‘Feminists for Life’ movement (FFL), established in 1972. Its members have included Sarah Palin who ran for the US vice presidency in 2008. Serrin Foster, its current president, was behind the ‘women deserve better’ campaign. Overall, FFL argues against abortion, while majoring on the perspective of the woman: ‘We want to free women from abortion’. Women’s Forum Australia adopts a similar approach.

One ought to be grateful for the support of feminists – ardent or otherwise – in the battle for unborn life. However, the more usual feminist approach has been to see abortion as the key to women’s liberation. Such has been its trumpet blast since its public rallies of the 1960s. Before her death in office in 2020, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the second woman justice appointed to the US Supreme Court. A conventional feminist of her time, she believed that abortion afforded women ‘equal citizenship status’. Given the emphasis on human autonomy and the amoral pro-choice slogan, one is not surprised to read of one feminist who asserts most vigorously: ‘Admit anti-abortion women to the tent, and feminists might as well set it on fire.’

A movement that has supposedly championed women’s rights has led to cruel violence against young girls in the form of female infanticide and sex-selection abortion directed mainly at female babies. The waters cannot but be muddied. Katay Zeh has tried to be a Baptist minister and a supporter of Planned Parenthood and yet one who sees abortion as ‘a complicated choice’ which requires making space for grief and healing in the pro-choice movement. It will not work. The problem is that if sex selection is wrong because it kills baby girls, then all abortion is wrong because it kills babies. Discrimination is an issue, but the far deeper issue is that of life and morality before God.

Opposing sex selection abortion is like supporting Zoe’s law which recognises injuries suffered in the womb but upholds the right to abortion. By itself the logic is not compelling but it could well do some good and drive a wedge into the pro-choice side that might open up more splits in the future. In the meantime, we live with the chilling words of Rahila Gupta, that the pro-choice slogan is one that leads ‘all the way to the sex-selection gallows’. The revolution still devours its children.

– Rev. Dr Peter Barnes