Being for or against something is easy to do in the abstract, but much more difficult when faced with extremes or unconditional areas on an issue. That might be what some pro-choice advocates think after hearing some people advocate for abortion on the grounds of gender selection of the fetus.

If politicians are “pro-choice,” then they must be pro-choice in all situations — lest they lose their pro-choice credentials, Ann Furedi, chief executive of British Pregnancy Advisory, recently told Spiked magazine. While on its face, the supposition that if someone generally is pro-choice then they always are pro-choice — regardless of the situation — is a logical jump that likely isn’t true. Such sentiments, however, truly could be an ethical quandary for those who are pro-choice when continuation of a pregnancy would cause mental or physical harm to the mother.

 “You can’t be pro-choice except when you don’t like the choice, because that’s not pro-choice at all,” Furedi reportedly said, defending the idea of aborting life based on the presumed gender of the fetus. She might be right, but that doesn’t sit well with some people who prefer a more moderate stance on the issue. Is it a clinical issue? Is it an emotional issue? Or is it something else altogether?

 Perhaps those quandaries best are settled by adopting a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy like the U.S. military used to have for its gay soldiers, so no one has to contend with the slippery slope on the ethics scale. Yet life is filled with more gray issues than black and white ones, which is why so many politicians and others get put into the spotlight for having to defend their stances on controversial issues. People might support abortion as long as it occurs in the first or second trimester of a pregnancy, but not in the third trimester. Again, that’s a situational gray area.

In China, where only one child is allowed per family and the country’s preference is for boys, it is routine to terminate pregnancies because of the gender of the fetus. In the U.S., however, choosing gender as the reason to terminate a pregnancy isn’t often cited.

The leading reasons women get abortions, according to a 1998 study, are: 25.9 percent want to postpone childbearing; 21.3 percent cannot afford a baby; 14.1 percent has relationship problem or partner does not want pregnancy; 12.2 percent are too young or a parent and/or others object to pregnancy; 10.8 percent say having a child will disrupt education or a job; 7.9 percent want no (more) children; 3.3 percent cite risk to fetal health; 2.8 percent list the risk to maternal health; and 2.1 percent say “other” (which, in theory, could include gender preference).

In the 40 years since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the United States, related women’s rights have been incrementally marginalized by states. In the U.S., Americans routinely are labeled as pro-choice or pro-life, but in reality most people are somewhere in the middle, believing abortion is acceptable in some, but not all circumstances, and that it is a decision best left to the mother and her physician. Abortion shouldn’t be considered a criminal activity and is deserving of the same privacy rights afforded to other medical procedures.

Americans’ tendency toward moderation applies to their views on abortion too. It should be legal, but not unconditionally so.

 

— Jeanny Sharp,

editor and publisher