11 Feb, 16 | by BMJ
Guest Post by Agomoni Ganguli Mitra
Three pieces of news over the last weeks particularly troubled me. In the first, and perhaps most radical of them all, Latin American governments began to urge women not to become pregnant over the next couple of years, as a public health measure to restrict the number of children born with microcephaly, potentially caused by the Zika virus currently plaguing the region. The second came from the Indian Minister of Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, one of the highest ranking officials in the current Indian government. For years, India has struggled with non-medical sex-selective abortion (and female infanticide) in such significant numbers, that the sex-ratio for infants in certain regions has become heavily skewed. Despite sex-determination being illegal since 1994, the practice has continued with the complicity of physicians and clinics, and in some cases without the consent of the pregnant women themselves. At a conference in early February, Gandhi suggested that an alternative to the current, ineffective policy of criminalising those who provide ultrasounds and sex-selective abortions, would be to register and monitor every pregnant woman in the country to ensure that female foetuses are brought to term and female infants are not killed shortly after birth. The last and most recent piece is perhaps the least shocking of them all, if only because we almost take it for granted that women’s health and lifestyles choices are seen to be closely related to their ability and inclination to produce babies. The US government’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in a bulletin patronisingly subtitled Why Take the Chance?, has suggested that women should think carefully before mixing sex and alcohol intake, if they are trying to get pregnant, or (and this is what makes it particularly problematic) could unknowingly be pregnant.
On the face of it, these are three very different sets of circumstances, geographical, political and social contexts, and in applied ethics, context is crucial to rigorous analysis. And yet I am struck by how, ironically, these policies and policy proposal fail to be contextualised within broader considerations of reproductive rights and justice by policy makers. more…