I read this interesting report this morning on how prenatal testing, which determines the sex of a fetus, has led to the selective abortion of approximately 10 million female fetuses in India since 1998. In India, generally speaking, female children are not valued as highly as male children, and are seen as more of a burden than a benefit. Male children are preferred, as they carry on the family name, provide extra income for the family, and financially support elderly parents (actual caregiving usually falls to the male children's wives). Female children are seen as a burden because the family raises them and then they marry and leave the household to go to live with their in-laws, taking a large dowry (ever increasing in today's India) with them. What is worse, it seems that the likelihood of a pregnant woman aborting a female fetus increases depending on her level of education. It's interesting how the medical technology involved – ultrasound – is available in even economically depressed rural areas because such value is placed on knowing the condition of the fetus prior to birth.I wonder how this will affect India in the future? Considering the still-active caste system, if higher income, well-educated families are not giving birth to as many girls, will this mean more unmarried Indian men? Will it mean the balance of power will shift to women, and perhaps women (or more likely, parents) will be able to choose from among several potential suitors? Perhaps dowry will change, and eventually men will be forced to give a dowry in order to secure the wife he most wants. Or, perhaps caste will become less important in arranging marriages. who knows how Indian soceity may be affected by this sexist practice.
In developed countries, there is less emphasis on the technology for the reason of sex-selection (I'm sure this happens as well), but rather, prenatal testing is primarily used to determine whether the fetus has genetic anomalies such as Downs Syndrome or spina bifida, and physical difficulties like a hole in the heart. Women are encouraged to abort pregnancies for these reasons, rather than carry the fetus to term, give birth, and raise a child that is considered a burden, both on the family and on society.
The medicalization of pregnancy has long been a bone of contention for feminists. All these technologies are presented as giving the pregnant woman more choices, but they all serve to place a heavy burden on women to produce perfect, healthy babies, and encourages the tendancy to think of women according to their pregnancy status. One friend of mine is currently pregnant (overdue, actually, and getting very anxious to have her baby) and she has told me how complete strangers come up to her in public places and touch her stomach! As if suddenly, because she is growing another human, her body is somehow public. Imagine someone coming up to you in the street and touching your stomach – invasion of personal space, right? Not so with pregnant women – their bodies become public, conversation pieces, and they are expected to do everything in their power to produce a healthy baby, including eat well, give up alcohol and smoking and drugs, take vitamins, stop any physically strenuous or dangerous activities, and undergo all manner of poking and prodding by doctors. The invasion of personal privacy becomes all the more increased by technology such as ultrasound, which allows you to actually see into the woman's body, in some cases putting a tangible face on the fetus, and reducing the woman to a vessel.
All of this is seen as providing women with more information, and thus, more choices. Is it really? Women who find out they are carrying fetuses with physical anomalies are encouraged to abort and try again. Considering the high value society places on health and able bodies, and the difficulties she would face in raising a child with physical and/or mental disabilities, is this really a choice she is free to make? We are effectively breeding certain types of persons out of the human race. Diability activists are growing more and more concerned with the impact this will have on those who do have the type of anomalies that are considered undesirable. Imagine how you would feel if you found out the very type of condition you have is valued so little by society that every effort is made to exclude people like you from even being born.
Consider also women who are unable to produce children; these women are seen as having something "wrong" with them, as people to be pitied. Women often undergo all sorts of invasive and expensive medical treatments to "treat" their infirtility (even if the infirtility is not hers but her partners, by the way!). In-vitro fertilization, or IVF, and artificial insemination involve massive doses of hormones to increase the number of ova a woman produces during a cycle. In IVF, the ova are then extracted surgically using a long syringe through the vagina and cervix, and the eggs (usually around 10) are then fertilized outside the body and grown to a stage of development that allows for – you guessed it – pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), which will tell whether the fetus has any genetic anomalies. (the worry with this type of testing is that eventually, only fetuses with preferred characteristics, such as sex, potential intelligence, eye and hair colour, etc. will be implanted.) After the testing, several fertilized ova are then implanted into the woman's uterus surgically. This gives better chances of one of the fetuses attaching to the uterine wall and developing fully. Sometimes, all of the fertilized eggs attach, and the woman becomes pregnant with multiple fetuses. She (and her partner) must then decide whether to carry all the fetuses to term, which places undue strain on the woman'd body and threatens her health even further, or to selectively abort one or more precious fetus.
All of this happens to the woman's body. What invasive procedure does the male partner undergo to contribute to this process? The answer: none. All he has to do is masturbate into a cup.
Anyway, this turned into a rather lengthy post, so sorry about that, but recent reading has struck a chord with me.