Dr. Dawg

Margaret Somerville's concern for the status of women

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Stephen Woodworth’s Motion 312 is dead. Trying to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, Mark Warawa, MP, has introduced another motion to keep the pot a-boiling:

That the House condemn discrimination against females occuring [sic] through sex-selective pregnancy termination.

The sentiment is one we would all share; but the abortion “debate” that Harper insists will not be re-opened continues to shamble through the House of Commons like one of the walking dead.

Do I agree with the sentiment of the motion? Yes. Do I want lawmakers continuing to discuss whether Canadian women should have rights? No.

There’s no contradiction here at all. Supporting the right to choice doesn’t mean that we have to morally approve of every single choice made. But as a matter of public policy, it is better to uphold rights for women than to criminalize abortion, the latter inevitably and sharply curtailing those rights.

But, right on cue, enter everyone’s favourite stealth Catholic, Margaret Somerville. Here’s the nub:

Until recently, most pro-choice advocates rejected sex-selection abortion, calling it “gendercide” and “female feticide.” But that has changed, at least in Canada. Pro-choice activists, such as Joyce Arthur, now promote the view that no abortions should be prohibited. They’re willing to selectively sacrifice unborn female babies, it seems, to keep the “purity” of their ideology, at least in terms of “choice.”

The fact that sex-selection abortion in Canada is occurring also raises what should be unthinkable questions for our society. To what extent, for example, is female feticide associated with creating a culture in which other abuses of women - such as “honour killings” - are tolerated? And how consistent are we in our approach in criminal law when we prohibit female genital mutilation but not the killing of an unborn girl just because she’s a girl?

Note the logical disjunction in the first two sentences. A pro-choice position on abortion is consistent with Charter-defined rights and equal status in society, as well as an obvious matter of public health. In general, restricting the freedom of citizens on the basis that some will use their freedom unwisely or immorally adversely affects good public policy. Indeed, the notion that rights should be curtailed because they might be improperly exercised in some cases is a recipe for totalitarianism.

To accuse the pro-choice movement of “sacrificing unborn female babies” is fatuous—and from someone claiming public intellectual status, it’s scandalous. The misogyny underlying sex selection against girls should be confronted as the social evil that it clearly is. But if that sex-selection were, hypothetically, possible to achieve by other means—through affecting the production of XX-chromosome sperm cells, for example—would it be any less heinous?

Those of us who are pro-choice do not believe that criminalizing abortion is the way to resolve the problem. Integration into a wider society with egalitarian values is the ultimate solution to any such practice.

And that gets to the crux of the matter. Far from being a question of ideological “purity” (why does Somerville place that word in quotation-marks?), choice on abortion is, like the exercise of any other right or freedom, a messy real-world proposition. Democracy is not neat and tidy—as Winston Churchill said, it’s the worst system of governance in the world, except for all the others.

“Honour killings,” disingenuously introduced into the discussion by Somerville, are certainly related to a general devaluing of women, as she indicates. They tend to occur in countries where women are already second-class citizens—places where they cannot legally venture out of doors by themselves, drive a car or vote, and where adultery can be punished by stoning. Places, by the way, where women don’t have access even to contraception, let alone the right to choose abortion.

If Somerville were seriously worried about the downgrading of women’s status in Canada, she should be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with those of us who oppose laws that give the state control over their bodies, that treat women as little more than walking incubators, relegating them to permanent second-class status in society. That runs completely counter to the egalitarian values she piously upholds.

It’s frankly deceitful to suggest that the pro-choice movement is winking at sex-selection simply because we don’t support criminalizing it. But there’s more to it. How could a government continue to permit choice on abortion while outlawing one possible motive for it? How can the law practically determine the motives of women seeking abortion? The answer is simple: it can’t.

The only way of legally preventing sex-selection is by restricting or outlawing all abortion. Let no one doubt that this is the real agenda here, with the sex-selection bugbear offering a little tactical leverage. And the anti-choice forces in play in the House of Commons can always count on Somerville’s devious and timely support.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on September 29, 2012 11:35 AM.

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