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In this paper we argue that sex-selective abortion (SSA) cannot be morally justified and that it should be prohibited. We present two main arguments against SSA. First, we present reasons why the decision for a woman to seek SSA in cultures with strong son-preference cannot be regarded as autonomous on either a narrow or a broad account of autonomy. Second, we identify serious harms associated with SSA including perpetuation of discrimination against women, disruption to social and familial networks, and increased violence against women. For these reasons, SSA should be prohibited by law, and such laws should be enforced. Finally, we describe additional strategies for decreasing son-preference. Some of these strategies rely upon highlighting the disadvantages of women becoming scarce, such as lack of brides and daughters-in-law to care for elderly parents. We should, however, be cautious not to perpetuate the view that the purpose of women is to be the consorts for, and carers of, men, and the providers of children. Arguments against SSA should be located within a concerted effort to ensure greater, deeper social and cultural equality between the sexes.

Keywords: autonomy; discrimination; public policy; sex-specific abortion; women's health

Document Type: Discussion


Publication date: 2007-11-01

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