The Oklahoma House voted yesterday to ban sex-selective abortion, opening the next front in the legal war over abortion.
If passed by the Oklahoma Senate and signed into law, the ban (House Bill 1595) will immediately be challenged, and the case may ascend to the Supreme Court. Like Gonzalez v. Carhart, the 2007 decision that upheld a federal ban on partial birth abortion, the case would have significant implications for the prerogatives of legislatures in the regulation of abortion. Where Carhart upheld the right of a legislature to regulate abortion methods, this case would consider whether legislatures may regulate abortion motives.
The cultural impact of this ban may be far greater than the legal precedent that emerges after years in the courts. Public debate surrounding sex-selective abortion will reveal the uncomfortable truth that the pro-choice movement is not nearly as feminist as Americans think or women deserve.
In theory, sex-selective abortion could eliminate boys or girls. In practice, it is almost always committed on girls. If the pro-choice movement were as feminist as it claims, this would be cause for serious concern. But the pro-choice movement is so enthralled by the ideology of autonomy that it will follow its logic even to the oppression of the female sex.
Feminists believe in equal representation of women in the professions, among them business, the academy and government. The termination of a woman from a professional position, because she is a woman, is an unconscionable relic of a sexist past.
How much more problematic is the termination of a woman’s life because she is a woman? Yet this is the very essence of sex-selective abortion, a practice the legality of which one can expect the pro-choice movement to fight tooth and nail to uphold.
It will have to fight hard, considering the strong opposition of the American people. A 2006 poll found that 86 percent of Americans support a ban of sex-selective abortion. And Oklahoma House Bill 1595 passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, 93 to 4. So the pro-choice movement will turn, as it always has, to the undemocratic courts in the hope that they will enforce the ideology of autonomy to which Americans do not subscribe.
The issue offers an opportunity for President Obama. On one hand, he situated himself within the pro-choice movement during the campaign by declaring the Freedom of Choice Act one of his top legislative priorities. If this Obama appears, expect complete lockstep with pro-choice opposition to any ban.
But Obama has also expressed desire to move beyond the partisan debates of the past and to find common ground to reduce the number of abortions though maintaining their legality. A ban of sex-selective abortion fits this post-partisan space: It contributes to a cultural opprobrium on abortion, on feminist grounds, without challenging the legality of abortion generally.
President Obama recently lifted the Mexico City Policy that prohibited federal dollars from going to international organizations that perform abortions. In the first two weeks of his administration, this was by far his least-popular initiative, incurring a disapproval rating over 50 percent.
President Obama should issue a new policy requiring that any such organization disavow sex-selective abortion, and then ask Congress to send him a ban of sex-selective abortion in America. He would thus bring the Democratic Party back to feminism, and begin the process of freeing it from the clutches of the ideology of autonomy.
An end to the ideology of autonomy is necessary to the revelation of truth. For the ultimate truth is that abortion is not a choice. No action performed under duress is a choice. A woman who has an abortion because she lacks the means to care for her baby is neither a heroine of choice nor heiress to the progress of freedom. Rather, she is oppressed. She is oppressed by a culture that teaches her to give her body up for the sexual gratification of self-centered men and then leaves her to deal with the resulting baby as if it is merely her problem. It is little wonder that she is reluctant to bring a child into such a world.
From the point of view of feminism, sex-selective abortion is an abomination and abortion, generally, a disease. We ought to ban the former and treat the latter. The pro-choice movement allows neither. It is time for the Democratic Party to move on.
Peter Johnston is a senior in Saybrook College.