In modern day India, an estimated 50,000 female fetuses are aborted monthly due to gender partiality for boys. Since 1980, an estimated 40,000,000 girls have gone “missing” due to sex-selective abortion, abandonment, or slaughter. Whether killed in the womb or thrown in the trash after birth, gendercide takes many forms and has been referred to alternatively as, “India’s dirty little secret” and “India’s national shame.” Consequently, the Indian government has criminalized both the use of ultrasounds for identifying the sex of the child as well as sex-selective abortion. However, these laws are seldom enforced. This is at least partly due to the fact that the practice is generally the privilege of the wealthy and educated, who can afford to pay for the ultrasounds and subsequent abortions.
There are women in India who are fighting gendercide. Networks of orphanages called “cradle-houses” are springing up around India. They take in baby girls abandoned in dust-bins, wells, drains, garbage cans, and “drop-boxes.” Some of the baby girls are very sick, because their mothers attempted, unsuccessfully, to have late term abortions by using drugs designed for that purpose (the nurses who work in the orphanages refer to these as “medicines for the killing.”
Still other women are attempting to change the culture in India. It is a culture in which women are often pressured by their husbands and mother-in-laws to engage in sex-selective abortion—to abort their own daughters. Indian women against gendercide are fighting for choice. They want to be able to choose not to use the ultra-sound as an instrument ordered to the abolition of women. They want to be able to choose not to be pressured into procuring dangerous late-term abortions. They want to be able to choose both to birth their daughters and to raise them in a culture that does not devalue women.
The pro-choice movement in the United States often presents itself as fighting a war ordered to protecting women’s rights and freedoms. If they wish to be consistent in this regard, then they should protest the non-enforcement of anti-abortion laws in India with the same vehemence that they protest laws designed to restrict abortion in the United States. Were this to occur, then the Catholic Church, which is generally regarded as the chief adversary of the pro-choice movement in the U.S., may turn out to be an important ally of the very same movement in the context of Indian gendercide.
In an earlier entry, I noted Blessed Pope John Paul II’s remark that contemplation of Mary should invite consideration of all “women who have been wronged and exploited” (Mulieris Dignitatem 19). There I was referring to the exploitative practice of international contract pregnancy (commercial surrogacy). But this statement applies also to the victims of the gendercide going on India—both mothers and daughters.
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate
He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
The situation in India has a less severe parallel in the US, where most women who abort their pregnancies would prefer not to. But as in India, American women’s choices are often constrained by economic and social pressures which make them feel like they need abortions even though they don’t want abortions. Here too I think the genuinely pro-life and pro-choice factions could cooperate, the focusing on empowering the general desire of women to have and raise their children (without taking a big economic or social status hit) and the pro-choice side focusing giving women more (reasonable) choices in a pragmatic sense rather than just in a legal sense. The severity of the situation in India, and the fact that it’s not so enmeshed in the US politics of abortion, does suggest it might be a better first location for global choice and life advocates to work together. If that happens we might look forward to bringing that cooperation to America.