Sex-selective abortions fuel violence against women

(Photo: Unsplash/Arleen Wiese)

There's been a lot of noise in the media, both here and in the US, after Alabama passed a pro-life Bill last week.

The legislation seeks to protect the life of preborn babies and prohibits the intentional destruction of that life in all circumstances, except where it would put the mother's life at risk.

It's obvious that pro-lifers are playing a longer game, however.

The hope is that the Bill will be challenged in the courts, and eventually it will go to the US Supreme Court where the infamous Roe v. Wade ruling of 1973 can be challenged. With President Trump appointing more conservative-leaning judges to the panel, for the first time in decades pro-lifers sense that their moment may have come.

For women like me, who view abortion as a human rights violation, the Alabama Bill is the start of a revolution in a culture that has hurt countless numbers of vulnerable women and overseen the destruction of millions of preborn babies. However, the Bill has of course been highly offensive to those who see abortion as an essential tenet of women's equality.

But, whilst some may view the Alabama Bill as a shocking development, we need to look a lot closer to home to see how far we in the UK are travelling in the opposite direction.

In the UK there is huge pressure to change our existing abortion laws to make them even more extreme.

Campaigners are calling for the decriminalisation of abortion, rendering it available on-demand up to 24 weeks, for any reason. Their focus is Northern Ireland, although they want an overhaul of the law across the rest of the UK at the same time.

The news from Alabama has given them additional motivation. That's because Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where the 1967 Abortion Act does not apply, so abortion is only legal there in cases where the mother's life is at risk or where there is a serious, long-term threat to her health. Such a law is viewed as 'cruel', even though 100,000 people are alive across NI thanks to its life-affirming laws.

There are many reasons why decriminalisation is completely the wrong direction. But I want to focus on just one example.

I'm referring to the practice of sex-selective abortion. It might shock you to hear that under the '67 Act, abortion on the grounds of gender is still legal in Great Britain. But sex-selective abortion is not just a British problem; it's a global tragedy that disproportionately affects girls and women.

Last month, the New Scientist published a piece of major research from the University of Singapore. It looked at birth sex ratio data from 1970-2002 in 202 countries across the globe and estimated that 23 million girls have been killed because of sex-selective abortions. This is what the researchers said: "The sex ratio at birth imbalance in parts of the world over the past few decades is a direct consequence of sex-selective abortions..."

If we want to create a more equal society, where men and women are afforded the same dignity and worth, it should be obvious that sex-selective abortion must be explicitly outlawed. Decriminalisation puts this worthy goal at risk and would create a society where sex-selective abortion would become more, not less, common.

In Canada, where abortion is decriminalised, sex-selective abortions are so common that the country is now described as a "sex-selective haven".

We urgently need to engage with the fact that sex-selective abortion affects women later in life.

If you look at India, you have a disproportionate number of men in the population, compared to women. In 2011, there were 914 girls for every 1,000 boys among children up to six years old – the most imbalanced gender ratio since India's independence in 1947.

Sex-selective abortions in India are also occurring at a staggering rate, despite the fact gender screening for such purposes was banned in 1996. The Invisible Girls Project reports that this gender imbalance has led to a surge in violence against women and increasing numbers of women being trafficked.

The Bible teaches us that together men and women reflect the image of God to the world. All human beings, from the point of conception have the right to life. When the lives of the tiniest girls do not matter, all women's lives are devalued.

Rather than pursuing this radical policy of decriminalising abortion, we should be clarifying existing law, so that such a practice is outlawed completely.

It's easy to throw stones at Alabama and Northern Ireland, when we should be looking closer to home.

The real debate should not be about making abortion easier but making it less common. Too often, the two sides in this debate just talk past each other. On sex-selective abortion, we should, in theory, find some common ground. 

Naomi Marsden is Early Human Life Policy Officer for Christian Action Research and Education (CARE).