The developing world, often a bastion of religious dogma and
radical fundamentalism, reveals a fascinating omission of free inquiry among
abortion rights supporters. Amartya Sen, a famed Indian economist, in relation
to the recent outrage over endemic rape in India, wrote:
the positive consequences of the agitation following the barbaric incident of
December 16 [in which a woman was brutally gang raped and died of her injuries] has been to
draw attention both to the prevalence of sexual brutality and rape in India,
and to the failure of the media to report on it seriously, thereby limiting
public discussion and the likelihood of social change.
goes on to illustrate the manifestations of India’s entrenched misogyny, taking
forms that call into dispute the orthodox idea that abortion rights activists are aligned with women’s interests. For example, Sen documents a rise in gender
selected abortion, accounting for “numbers of selective abortions of female
fetuses, offsetting the gains in declining difference in mortality rates.”
avowedly found their principles on gender egalitarianism and secular values,
making Sen’s observations all the more disturbing to a defender of abortion
rights. Society in India is rigidly hierarchical (a residuum of Hindu’s caste
system), and is also dominated by religious traditional values. Sex trafficking, discrimination
based on wealth or social status, and a widespread failure to report rapes, are all connected to this religious fanaticism and traditional culture. One
can expect much of the same to continue in India for years to come—unless, as Sen hopes, there is a sea change in cultural attitudes.
and patriarchal prejudices infect innumerable levels of Indian society, from a
corrupt police and judiciary favoring rapists over victims, to a cowing of
feminist resistance, as most women have been rendered submissive by unabashedly
violent male-dominated structures. But as globalization and porous borders expose Indians to humanist values, and increase women’s access to education, the free-thinking women of India may perhaps come to view abortion in a different light than most Western
The ease with which abortion (in this
case explicitly prejudiced in favor of men) coheres with religious chauvinism, and is procured in a religious society that is deeply connected to bigotry, sexual trafficking, and rape, belies the notion that abortion is a
sacred feminist tenet. The developing world (particularly India and China) accounts for a
marked disparity in genders, with some statistics showing that as many as 160
million sex-selective abortions have been carried out.
should focus on statistics such as these. We must take a clear stand, based on secular, humanist values, to condemn abortion as a practice that is far
from promoting women’s health, safety, and well-being.