I always enjoy being on The Big Questions and today was no exception (you can watch here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007zpll for the next seven days). As usual I spent the whole time with my hand in the air trying to deal with just a few of the obnoxious things people were expressing from all sides (don't even get me started on the man who thinks children can be possessed by the devil!). There was one point I didn't get to respond to on air which I really really wanted to (unsurprisingly) ... the allegations that my views on sex-selective abortion are somehow racist or culturally insensitive.
The claim (for those who missed the show) is that some women from certain cultural groups - India was mentioned - are under great pressure from their families to have boys and therefore we should ban doctors from telling women the sex of their foetus in order to make it harder for them to be forced into having abortions. It was also claimed that women from these communities are at risk of domestic violence if they give birth to girls. So...
1. As it happened both the Asian women on the show agreed with the claim. This doesn't mean all Asian women agree, nor does it mean that I shouldn't express my differing opinion out of "respect". In fact it would be disrespectful to (a) not represent the views of Asian women not included in the show's line up and (b) act as though these women are incapable of dealing with debate or holding their own. [And for note I have no idea in advance about who will be on the show and no control over it.]
2. A foetus is a part of a woman's body while it is growing. She should have the right to know any information she wants to about it. Or not if she doesn't. It's her body.
3. I would rather a woman have the freedom to get an abortion if she wants one than that she be put at risk of domestic violence. Obviously.
4. If a woman feels she wants to continue a pregnancy but knows she will be at risk of violence or other abuse if she does (for any reason) she should be offered a place in a refuge and support to rebuild her life away from the people who are threatening her. Also obviously.
5. The alternative is this. A white woman says "I wanted to be pregnant but now my partner's ill and I've just lost my job, I'd like an abortion." And I say "ok, that's your choice". A brown woman says "I wanted to have a baby but now I've discovered it's a female foetus and this could put me at risk of violence, I'd like an abortion". And I say "no, your choice is not valid". Guess what that would be? Racist.
In fact no-one has an abortion for a single reason. And no-one has an abortion purely because of the sex of the foetus. These cases (and in the UK, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, who perform a third of all abortions say they are not aware of any ethnic groups seeking sex-selective terminations) in fact are about women choosing abortion because of the combination of the sex of the foetus, the cultural norms of the community and family they live in and the alternative support options open to them. We should be focussed on changing the cultural norms and giving these women a better and wider range of support options.
Otherwise we effectively turn to women who have been deprived of the understanding that girls can have successful careers, make money, achieve great things and make families very proud and tell them that since they're deprived of that knowledge we're going to deprive them of some other knowledge too. Welcome (back) to the dark ages!!
Of course we also have to consider the other likely consequences. If these families are so determined to force women to abort female foetuses what is to stop:
1. Dangerous, illegal backstreet scans and abortions?
2. Women being sent to other countries for scans and abortions (including places where maternal death rates are much higher and women's rights - for example to seek help if they experience violence - are not well enforced)?
3. Women claiming to have a family history of breast cancer or other gender-specific illness in order to create a medical reason for being told their foetus's sex?
4. These unwanted girls being cruelly mistreated?