January 10th, 2006

Bias in abortions.

A recent article by the BBC on the prevalence of aborting female fetuses in India has drawn a lot of shocked reactions.
Researchers in India and Canada for the Lancet journal said prenatal selection and selective abortion was causing the loss of 500,000 girls a year.

Their research was based on a national survey of 1.1m households in 1998.

This is incredibly sad.

However, it is not “female infanticide,” as it is sometimes labelled.

This is a complicated issue for many feminists: the decline in the female population is a serious problem, yet forbidding the practice would be prohibiting elective abortion. It may even lead some to question their pro-choice principles.

Perhaps one way to think about this apparent conflict would be to make a loose analogy with employment. Although the relationship between a parent and child is vastly different in nature from the relationship between an employer and employee, in both cases the parent/employer can decide whether or not to accept the child/employee, and acceptance carries with it a significant personal and financial responsibility.

Looking at any individual case, the decision to hire is solely up to the employer. The government cannot, and should not, go around dictating that you must hire certain specific people — that would be forcing you to create a relationship and take on a responsibility against your will. But when large numbers of employers systematically reject qualified applicants because of their sex or race, then we have a problem.

The analogy is a weak one, and it doesn't point the way to a clear solution, but it does help me think about the issue.

Confirmation hearings.

I don't know about these confirmation hearings. I was listening to the live broadcast on NPR a little while ago, and it sounded to me like this.

A Democrat gets up to ask questions and says, “Judge, i'm very disturbed by this opinion so-and-so, which you wrote in year so-and-so, because it suggests to me that you don't believe in principle X, which is important to me (e.g. the constitution, limits on executive power, civil rights, women’s rights).”

Alito says, ”Oh, no. I do care about principle X. That case was N years ago, so i don't remember it that well, but — you misunderstood the case, you see — the case was not about principle X, it was about principle Y. And let me explain how my decision in that case was a perfectly reasonable judgement about principle Y. ...”

Then a Republican gets up to ask questions and says, “Judge, i am very impressed by you, and it upsets me that some people here are trying to distort your record. I think you are extremely well qualified to serve on the Supreme Court, and while i'm at it, let me quote aloud these N other important people who have also said that you are an absolutely fantastic person. ...”

Alito says, “Thank you.”

Now how is this supposed to reveal anything useful? As someone listening to the hearing, how am i supposed to know whether the Democrat is distorting Alito's record (which there is obvious incentive to do) or Alito is distorting his own record to make it sound better (which he also has obvious incentive to do)?

Or, the Republican gets up and says, “I want to know how you feel about X. And by the way, before you answer, let me tell you my opinion — i feel very strongly such-and-such, and i hope you do too.”

Alito says, “Oh yes. I agree with you.”

I mean, what else is he going to say? No, but support me anyway because i'm wearing such a nice tie?

Then there's the hedging. Alito can always avoid the issue if he wants, no matter what he's asked. He has it both ways — if he is asked about an issue that is likely to come up before the Supreme Court, he says he can't talk about that. If he is asked about an issue that isn't likely to come up, he says he doesn't know, because a responsible judge has to study the issue carefully and thoroughly before declaring an opinion, and of course he only studies issues that are likely to come up.

Like i said, i don't know. This process just seems pretty frustrating to me.