Saturday, July 27, 2013

Death by a Thousand Cuts

A local anti-abortion group supported by Operation Rescue has rounded up enough signatures to add a ballot measure to the upcoming October elections in Albuquerque aimed at prohibiting all abortions beyond the twenty-week pregnancy period.  The proposed ban, which would allow for no exceptions, seems unlikely to survive constitutionally-based legal challenges if passed.  That is unlikely to discourage the measure's promotion, however, as proponents will see either an up or down outcome as an opportunity to bring the issue to the fore at the state-wide level.

Local pundits are predicting that the anti-abortion issue will swamp out other issues in the City's upcoming election, including the race for mayor.  It also seems likely to complicate life for the incumbent, Richard Berry, a Republican who takes good advantage of the officially nonpartisan status of the mayoral election.  He will have a hard time ducking the partisan questions that the anti-abortion ballot measure raises this time, however.   Berry appointed city councilor, Janice Arnold-Jones, to a vacant seat recently;  she'll be shooting for winning the seat in the October election, and she is an enthusiastic backer of Operation Rescue initiatives.  There is also sure to be a very large amount of out-of-state money available to raise the issue to a high decibel level.

"Twenty weeks", "fetal pain", and "abortion procedure safety" are the buzz words that the Operation Rescue people are seeking to inject into the local race.  We are likely to hear the whole right-wing litany laid out, of course.  As Bill Barrow noted in a recent AP column,

"From statehouses to Congress, Republicans have advanced a range of ideas: banning nearly all abortions beyond the 20th week after conception; making abortion clinics follow regulations for surgical care; mandating that clinic physicians have admitting privileges at local hospitals; requiring women to get ultrasounds before terminating a pregnancy..."  and

"...According to the Guttmacher Institute, which works on reproductive health issues including abortion-rights, states this year have enacted a least 43 new laws that restrict or further regulate abortion.  That comes after more than 120 new laws, several held up by the federal courts, the previous two years."

Another popular Operation Rescue theme likely to raise its head in the Albuquerque election is a proposed prohibition on abortion motivated by sex selection, usually aimed at females.  The anti-abortion radicals, in regard to this issue like to attach the terms, "feticide", "femicide" and even "infanticide" to spice their argument.  Getting traction for this initiative in the U.S. or other economically well-off countries is tricky for them as such societies tend to exhibit quite stable ratios of female to male births of around 50:50.  As a result, the Operation Rescue folks tend to target Asian immigrant groups which they allege are prone to female de-selection via abortion.  Of course, that in turn raises the issue of racial profiling, but that never seems a serious obstacle for the right wing parties.

Female to male ratios of newborns are a real issue in some societies in East and South Asia.  A Wikipedia table shows that in nine Indian states as of 2011 there were less than 900 females per thousand men.   The across-India response to this serious imbalance has primarily focused on the passage of a law that prohibits abortion for sex selection.  There is also a movement toward limiting access to gender-revealing ultrasound procedures.  Neither of these approaches seems to be making any appreciable dent in the problem, but that does not seem to discourage advocacy for the establishment of a bureau of demographic rectitude as the right's main weapon in regard to the gender equality issue.

A good example of the legalistic approach to limiting sex selection is provided by Sabu M. George who has been an indefatigable proponent for twenty years.  He presents the problem as one primarily of law and ethics, often in quite over-the-top terms:

"...Given the context of genocide happening today can we wait till the Indian society starts loving girls? The relentless promotion of sex selection by the medical profession over four+ decades has to be stopped. Therefore without recourse to the “Pre conceptional and Pre natal diagnostic techniques law” the spread and intensification of sex selection cannot be stopped. Companies including Google which have been advertising sex selection technologies domestically and encouraging sex selection tourism from our country should be held liable for the violation of global human rights conventions and grave violations of Indian law. We cannot allow the UN or global population control lobbies to ignore the history of introducing and promoting sex selection for population control in India. Neither can we forget the ways multi-national corporations have profited from their participation in the genocide of millions of missing Indian girls."

Setting into motion a vast bureaucracy to interrogate every Indian woman contemplating abortion in regard to the issue of sex selection would entail costs that are hard to imagine.  One has to wonder if Sabu George has ever considered the possibility that taking the same amount of money and giving it to women as a reward for giving birth to female children might not have a considerably greater degree of success.  I don't know what the real prospects for that would be in India, but there are a good many other practical objections to the course advocated by George and the Operation Rescue people.

As Sneha Barot explains in a recent Guttmacher policy analysis:

"An even more compelling argument against sex-selective abortion bans is that restrictions on access to prenatal technologies and to abortions can create barriers to health care for women with legitimate medical needs; scare health care providers from providing safe, otherwise legal abortion services; and force women who want to terminate their pregnancies into sidestepping the regulated health care system and undergoing unsafe procedures. Accordingly, the joint UN statement stresses that 'States have an obligation to ensure that these injustices are addressed without exposing women to the risk of death or serious injury by denying them access to needed services such as safe abortion to the full extent of the law. Such an outcome would represent a further violation of their rights to life and health.'"

An update on the issues is available in an Aug. 15 Alibi article.

No comments: