You Go, ‘Grrl!

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“There are too many men in India today.”  So reads the first line of an an op-ed in today’s New York Times entitled “How to Fix India’s Sex-Selection Problem” penned by IntLawGrrls editor Sital Kalantry (congratulations!).   Most of our readers are familiar with the issue of sex-selective abortion and the resulting imbalance in the ratio of males to females in India.  Sital explains that the statistics suggest a correlation (though not causation) between a large male surplus and violence against women.  Rather than the more commonly-presented solution of banning sex-selective abortion, which she argues is unrealistic, Sital suggests the possibility of sperm sorting, which enables parents who want a girl to select the appropriate chromosomes prior to artificial insemination.  Indian law currently prohibits sperm sorting, and she proposes an amendment to “allow pre-implantation sex selection” for families who want a girl child.  The backstory, data, and details are available in Sital’s new book, Women’s Human Rights and Migration, which was published this month by the University of Pennsylvania Press (another congratulations!).  A longer update on the book, which I am in the middle of reading, will be forthcoming soon, but in the meantime I recommend both the op-ed and the book for those looking for a nuanced and thoughtful exploration of the issue of sex-selective abortion in India. You Go, ‘Grrl!

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In the U.S., all eyes on Texas in the Reproductive Rights Debate

The reproductive rights debate rages on in the U.S. as much as in the rest of the world, with the most recent hotspot of activity in Texas.  Yesterday, during its last night of a special legislative session, the Texas Senate considered a bill that would severely restrict access to abortions within the state.  Among other things, the bill would ban (with limited exceptions) abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy and require abortion clinics to have admitting privileges with a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic, a high bar for rural area clinics.  Delving deeply into the rules of parliamentary procedure, opponents managed to block the passage of the bill by delaying any vote on it until after the session expired at midnight.

Emerging as a pro-choice hero was state Senator Wendy Davis, whose plans to filibuster for approximately 13 hours were interrupted 11 hours in by a discussion of whether Davis’s filibuster had ended due to her alleged violations of parliamentary procedure.  During the filibuster and discussion (when it remained unclear whether her filibuster had officially ended), Davis remained standing, without leaning, eating, drinking, or taking a bathroom break, as per the rules of the Senate.  Davis’s colleagues supported her to the end, prolonging the discussion and preventing a vote by raising a number of parliamentary points of order.  The Senate finally voted to end Davis’s filibuster with minutes remaining in the session, despite several attempts by Senator Leticia Van de Putte to be heard before the vote.  Van de Putte perhaps had the last word of the night, however, when she asked, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?,” provoking a deafening uproar from pro-choice protestors in the gallery which ultimately prevented the passage of the bill before the session expired.

The issue, discussed for the better part of 11 hours through Senator Davis’s own words and the anecdotes of supporters around the state, highlighted the importance of access to women’s health facilities for all women regardless of economic class, and the notion that the bill wouldn’t lower the number of abortions but would instead drive these medical procedures underground.  Indeed, around the world, lack of access to safe and legal abortions has been connected to a rise in women seeking unsafe, clandestine abortions.

This may be a small victory for reproductive rights advocates, as the bill may simply be put to vote again in another special session.  Even still, for the many following along in person, on the live feeds, or on Twitter, the day and night felt momentous.  To the many pro-choice advocates, the coming together of the Senators and the public in the gallery was proof of democracy at work.  The filibuster, a tool designed to allow a minority to fight against complete majority rule, did precisely that last night.

The intensity of the last few hours of the legislative session may also be an indicator of an increasingly intense debate to come.  Texas is one of several states that has attempted to or succeeded in severely restricting abortion access in recent years, despite vociferous protest from pro-choice advocates and constitutional injunctions in states like North Dakota preventing strict abortion rules from becoming practice.  But the scene in Austin last night showcased the dedication of the pro-choice movement, surprising many who did not expect such a showing from Texas.  This may very well have renewed the momentum of the movement.  Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood and daughter of former Texas governor Ann Richards, has proclaimed:

“They lit the fuse in Austin – but the fire is catching all over the country.” 

EDITED TO UPDATE:  Texas Governor Rick Perry confirmed that he will be calling a special session, beginning July 1, 2013, to revisit the bill.

Sex selection abortions in India and the United States

In an article in Slate, “It’s a Trick“, I described the great care taken by the makers of “It’s A Girl,” a “documentary” on sex selection abortion in India and China to disguise connections to anti-abortion groups in the United States and to use the language of women’s equality movements.  Many feminist groups across the country and on university campuses have been screening this movie.  When I was asked to moderate a discussion after one such screening, I became curious about the financing sources for the film and the background of its director.   Through searching the ownership of several domain names, I found that Evan Davis, the director of the film worked for Harvest Media Ministries, a media company that makes anti-abortion and other videos for Church groups.  When I asked him about his financing sources, he refused to disclose them, but did admit that some donors were people he met during his tenure at Harvest Media Ministries.

The “documentary” paints a partial picture of the complexities of the situation in India.  Without  knowledge of the realities in India, some people may have been misled by the slanted portrayal to support the film and donate to charities it promotes.  The only scenario on abortion presented in the film is one where those who believe in autonomy rights of women and those who believe in the right of the fetus agree – a woman should not be forced to have an abortion because her fetus is female (or for any other reason).  To this end, the movie extensively covers Mitu Khurana, a woman who left her husband because he physically abused after she refused to abort her female fetuses.

The film, however, fails to depict the most common cases in India –- women who make the choice to abort a female fetus without physical violence or overt coercion.  Poor women in villages have told me that they do not want to bring girls into the world and do not want them to go through what they have faced.   Some might argue that these women cannot make this choice “freely” in the context of widespread “son preference.”

The other type of situation that the film fails to depict is one where a woman would face violence from her husband and in-laws if she didn’t abort the fetus, but gave birth to a girl instead.  Mitu Khurana’s family is depicted as middle class and she escaped from her husband with the financial support of her parents.  Countless poor women do not have that luxury.  Indeed, they are in a “double-bind” — they face violence at home if they do not have an abortion, and face jail if the do.

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