Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is upset about abortion. Well, not abortion per se. But some abortions. Of girls. Apparently killing boys is okay.
Abortion is one issue never likely to disappear. It sets protection of life and liberty in apparent conflict and raises challenging issues such as responsibility and privacy. Abortion isn’t amenable to easy political compromise and any resolution is apt to leave a lot of people feeling uncomfortable.
But the issue can’t be avoided. The bottom line of abortion is a dead baby. No amount of obfuscation and euphemism can hide the obvious. And if abortion is a legal right, beyond regulation by government, then motivation is irrelevant. If you have a right to kill all babies, you have a right to kill girl babies.
However, Secretary Clinton, a supporter of unrestricted abortion, appears disturbed by the logical outcome of her policy preferences. In commenting on her international agenda for women, she observed that in some nations “girl babies are still being put out to die.” Moreover, she explained: “Obviously, there’s work to be done in both India and China, because the infanticide rate of girl babies is still overwhelmingly high, and unfortunately with technology, parents are able to use sonograms to determine the sex of a baby, and to abort girl children simply because they’d rather have a boy. And those are deeply set attitudes.”
Secretary Clinton’s remarks received surprisingly little comment from those she should have most offended — other advocates of abortion “rights.” Pro-lifers suggested that Secretary Clinton was a traitor to the abortion cause, but Laurie Carlsson defended the secretary’s “nuanced view” on an issue that is “neither simple, nor clean-cut along lines of political beliefs or moral values.”
Yet Secretary Clinton challenged two fundamental precepts of the case for legalized abortion. First, she tied the “infanticide rate of girl babies” to sex selection abortions. If sex-based infanticide and abortion are morally equivalent, then non-discriminatory infanticide and abortion should be morally equivalent as well. Secretary Clinton has raised the core moral challenge of abortion: once we enter the continuum of life, our essential humanity has been established. The moment of birth has no obvious moral distinction. Else why would Secretary Clinton be as upset with those who abort baby girls as with those who put newborn girls out to die?
Second, Secretary Clinton undercuts the essential argument of abortion activists: there is a right to unrestricted abortion (or abortion “on demand”). That means for any reason. However, the secretary has identified, to her, at least, one illegitimate reason. If there is one, might there not be others?
There are obvious social consequences of sex selection via abortion: for instance, a lot of men who can’t find wives. But that doesn’t seem to be Secretary Clinton’s point. Rather, she is concerned, rightly, about the moral implications of this practice.
It is almost an axiom on the Left that there is no worse offense than to “discriminate,” which makes sex selection abortion so odious to some. National Post writer Barbara Kay says “sex selection is a form of bias — arguably even a form of hatred — against an identifiable group.” But surely sex selection is not the only form of inappropriate discrimination. How about abortion of the handicapped, whether physical or mental? Writer George Neumayr has warned: “Without much scrutiny or debate, a eugenics designed to weed out the disabled has become commonplace.” This also is discrimination.
But discrimination, or even “hatred,” doesn’t necessarily stop there. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently discussed Roe v. Wade and noted the “concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.” Presumably she was referring to racial minorities, though there could be other disfavored groups. Cannot abortion be considered a form of society-wide discrimination?
And if we can judge the motives of those who choose abortion, then should we not critically assess other purported justifications? Why is it worse to decide that the baby’s sex is “wrong” than to decide that the pregnancy’s timing is “wrong.” Secretary Clinton’s apparent position, that people are free to choose abortion for any reason, except the one reason she finds most offensive, is intellectually unsustainable.
Perhaps the secretary still believes the procedure should be legal, and that the “work to be done” is persuading people not to abort their baby girls. Yet she mentions infanticide in the same sentence as abortion, and presumably she believes that more than persuasion is necessary in the former case. Again, there is no clear line between infanticide and abortion. The females are killed: the only question is when?
In any case, the law is never going to be able to control motives. If other abortions are legal, then anyone desiring one for the purpose of sex selection merely need state anything else — or nothing — and the law would not stand in the way. Australia, Canada, China, and India all formally ban the practice. Oklahoma has legislated against sex-selection abortions. Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) has introduced a bill imposing a federal prohibition. However, these measures are wasted effort so long as abortion is largely unrestricted.
Secretary Clinton has grasped an essential truth: It is wrong to kill baby girls. But it also is wrong to kill baby boys. The problem is not sex selection abortion. The problem is abortion. Many politicians desperately hope that the issue will just go away. But it won’t. Abortion remains one of today’s most profound moral challenges.
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