Finally, Sewer [sic] seems to have misunderstood the origins of sex-selective abortion: It begins not with lower- and middle-class families, who need to worry about girls being a financial drain, but rather with wealthy elites, for whom finances are a much lower-order concern. The behavior then filters down the socio-economic ladder to the middle and lower classes, which do have to worry about money. Hvistendahl makes this all quite clear in her reporting.
Um, I never contested that part of Douthat's argument, precisely because arguing that poverty was the issue would have been wrong, but the wealthy respond to economic and cultural pressures as readily as anyone else.
Also, the problem isn’t just that girls have a “lower” value to these poorer families. As Hvistendahl shows, the sex imbalance also causes havoc once the shortage of girls gives young women a higher value. When the “value” of young women escalates, it causes all sorts of other problems, including forced marriages, mail-order-weddings, widespread sexual slavery and prostitution, and the danger of creating a permanent underclass of women. In other words, the women’s enhanced value becomes a danger to her, not an asset.
Douthat's argument was that "women's empowerment" was the cause of sex-selective abortion. His evidence was India, where abortion is legal and available. Last backs him up with the above parade of horrors. On what planet are "forced marriages, mail-order-weddings, widespread sexual slavery and prostitution" evidence of a society driven by women's empowerment?
Let’s pretend for a moment that the only source of the problem really is patriarchy. Well, then, you have two choices: Do you stop sex-selective abortion and prevent the slaughter of millions of girls by “fighting” patriarchical culture in some nebulous way that may, or may not, after several decades, pay off? Or do you outlaw abortion, enforce the ban pretty rigorously (by sending doctors who perform them to jail) and understand that while there will still be illegal abortions which slip through the cracks, girl babies won’t be targeted as widely and that the vast majority of those who would have been killed in the gendercide will be allowed life?
Outlawing abortion in India would likely be as effective as outlawing sex-selective abortion has been, which is to say not very, and would lead to a series of other really horrifying outcomes for women who sought or were forced to have abortions anyway. But Last's right, if you don't actually care about whether women have the right to make decisions about when they have children, then the "solution" to the problem is rather simple. Liberals would prefer a society in which women have the autonomy to make their own decisions, free of coercion from the state or social custom.
The reason why Last wants "women's empowerment" to be the problem is because his solution is to further deny women the right to make their own decisions. He doesn't have a problem with coercion; he has a problem with coercion that leads to more abortion rather than less. His problem, and Douthat's, is that they've chosen a society in which women aren't particularly empowered, but where abortion is legal, and they've conflated the two.
The best email I got after I reviewed Hvistendahl’s book was from someone who quipped that we’ll start restricting abortion in America the day after someone develops and in utero test for “the gay gene.” Because if it turned out that certain classes of women were aborting babies exclusively because of their homosexuality, then the left would finally turn on abortion.
Yes, this is an old Ann Coulter joke. Creative!
Anyway, as with sex-selective abortion, they'd most likely conclude that the problem is a society in which people believe that gays and lesbians are second-class citizens unentitled to the same rights as everyone else. Which again, is a society many conservatives would be perfectly fine with. Where liberals see a problem of prejudice or oppression through culture and custom, conservatives simply see an opportunity to argue that women should be forced to carry children to term. The former is much harder, and if you don't see a society where women and gays and lesbians are equal under the law as a worthy end, then yes, it's much easier just to outlaw abortion.
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(If there's one thing we know about comment trolls, it's that they're lazy)