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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Abortion, foeticide and liberal ethics

In India growing numbers of female foetuses are being aborted in order to save their parents the exorbitant cost of a dowry. The economics are brutally simple: 500 rupees for an abortion, 50,000 for a dowry. In the worst-affected areas there are only 8 girls for every 10 boys.

Nick Bryant feels he can safely describe the situation as tragic without compromising the BBC's impartiality. He also supplements the neutral term 'abortion' with the distinctly judgmental 'foeticide'.

But the news for unborn Indian girls is not as bad as it might be. It looks as if they may have a significantly better chance of evading abortion than their British sisters. Says Bryant, 'Over the past 20 years, it has been estimated that some 10 million female foetuses have been aborted' - an average of 500,000 a year. In England and Wales, with a population about one twentieth that of India and a much lower birth rate, the annual total stands at nearly 100,000 and rising.

So a tragedy for Britain's female foeticide victims, too? Well, no, that doesn't seem to be quite the way the Beeb sees it. For a start, 'foeticide' is right out. And if you want to find an instance of a BBC correspondent describing Britain's abortion rate as tragic you will need more patience or luck than I had. The report on the 2006 figures for England and Wales refrains rigorously from editorial comment, instead canvassing a range of expert opinions. Whilst the Royal College of Obstetricians was moved to describe the 3.9% rise as 'disappointing', Anne Furedi of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said "Women will always need the option of abortion if their usual birth control has let them down." No tragedy, then, just one of those things, an inevitable by-product of the way we do sex - and heaven forbid that we should think of changing that!

So when do 100,000 aborted female foetuses fail to attain the status of tragedy? Evidently, when there are 100,000 aborted male foetuses to even up the score. All you need is inclusiveness. So remember: you don't need to believe in God to have a morality.

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