RE: The Next Phase of the Abortion Debate

by Yuval Levin

Response To...

The Next Phase of the ...

Reihan, I’ve always found the liberal argument against sex-selective abortions a little strange. If abortion is essentially unproblematic, since fetuses are not persons in a sense that pro-abortion people find relevant (or convenient), then why does abortion become problematic when those fetuses are female?  

Hillary Clinton (to take one particularly rabid pro-abortion activist at random), said this to the New York Times in 2009 regarding this question:

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.

Even assuming Clinton was distinguishing infanticide (i.e. the killing of a child after birth rather than before) from abortion in that comment, she plainly describes the abortion of girls because they are girls as at least “unfortunate.” I certainly agree, and it is far more than merely unfortunate. But surely this would suggest the abortion of girls is unfortunate regardless of their parents’ motives, and indeed that the abortion of boys would be too. 

Is the problem that boys are not being aborted at equal rates? Is it that the act of aborting girls is unfortunate just because it reveals and acts on a preference for boys over girls? Is the same true of the infanticide Clinton mentions? Is the killing of these children, in the womb or after birth, a problem because it shows that their parents might harbor an inclination to gender discrimination?

Parsing depravity can only take us so far, but it does in this case suggest the presence of some atrophied but not altogether suffocated moral instincts that might one day yet be revived. Let us hope. 

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