Twitter: @SteveAhlquist

Steve Ahlquist is an award-winning journalist, writer, artist and founding member of the Humanists of Rhode Island, a non-profit group dedicated to reason, compassion, optimism, courage and action. The views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of any organization of which he is a member.

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"We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” - Elie Weisel

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu

"There comes a time when neutrality and laying low become dishonorable. If you’re not in revolt, you’re in cahoots. When this period and your name are mentioned, decades hence, your grandkids will look away in shame." - David Brooks

4 responses to “Averting Dystopia: Preserving Roe v. Wade in Rhode Island”

  1. Randall Rose

    Rep. Felella’s bill against sex-selection abortion has feminist support and isn’t racist as you claim. Internationally, feminists have been working to stop sex-selection abortion. Abortion aimed at sex selection often reflects a preference for sons over daughters, so it can have further sexist effects. At a 1994 UN conference, nearly 200 countries, including the United States, adopted an action plan that noted how selective abortion of female fetuses “compounded” sexism, and concluded by saying “Governments are urged to take the necessary measures to prevent infanticide, prenatal sex selection, trafficking in girl children and use of girls in prostitution and pornography.” I’m not saying we should accept that just because the governments at the UN conference said so. But it illustrates how international feminist activists have been pushing to ban sex-selection abortion worldwide.

    Rep. Felella’s bill, H5158, says that doctors are not allowed to carry out abortions if they know that the fetus’s sex is the only reason for the abortion. I’ve seen studies showing that sex-selective abortions do happen in America, though not all that often. The bill is careful not to direct its penalties toward women. It might impede pregnant women, and their family members, from being able to use abortion solely for sex selection, but on the other hand it’s a move to stop a form of gender discrimination. So it’s the kind of bill that some feminists support and other feminists oppose. RI Future should not have falsely spoken of “the racist intent of Felella’s bill”. There are many forms of sexism, and the preference for sons over daughters that leads to aborting female fetuses is a kind of sexism that may be more common in some cultures than others. But trying to ban one form of sexism doesn’t become racist just because it’s a form of sexism that some cultures encourage more than others.

    I think RI Future’s coverage of this bill was written too hastily – the article has a number of errors, including linking to the wrong bill number. I’ve tried to correct these errors here. I don’t know whether I would support the bill or not, but I’d like to see the pros and cons discussed more fairly. The bill, if it passed, would rarely need to be enforced and certainly wouldn’t lead to a “dystopia”. I realize that Felella’s bill wasn’t the main focus of this article, so I guess that makes it more understandable that you missed some things, but when an article is so hostile to a bill that arguably does some good, it’s better to be more careful. I appreciate the work that RI Future does in covering these things.
    The RI bill, H5158 by Rep. Felella:
    A study interviewing women in America who have tried abortion to avoid having daughters:
    The UN conference document (key part is in page numbers 33-36 which are pages 47-50 of the PDF):
    A pro-life view with links to more studies:
    A pro-choice view points out that if you really want to keep parents from choosing their children’s sex, it’s best to have laws that cover more technologies for doing that instead of just restricting abortion:

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  2. cailin rua

    The issue of sex selection is way more complicated than what is presented here. Also, abortion does not have to occur for pre-natal sex manipulation to occur.

    A blog post from Our Bodies Ourselves illustrates some of the problems involved:

    Unfortunately, the subject is Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia and the language used is pathologizing. Another unfortunate fact is that one of the lead critics of Dr. Maria New’s practices is the wife of Dr. Aron Souza and is an apologist for such pathologization. Both were advocates for a new nomenclature that would characterize intersex variations in healthy people as “disorders”, which I think is relevant to the question of fetal selection, particularly as it relates to sex, and I am referring to “sex” in all its various manifestations.

    Understanding CAH would take some time. Understanding the sexist attitudes towards those who karyotype as XX and masculinize, to various degrees, without having a salt wasting condition, would take time but to begin to understand, and I mean just to begin to understand, but here are a few facts from an Our Bodies Ourselves blog post:

    “Virilization in a female with CAH can range from mild enlargement of the clitoris to the formation of a urogenital sinus, a condition in which the vagina and urethra are joined together in a common channel. . . .

    “A woman at risk of having a child with CAH may be offered prenatal dexamethasone, a synthetic steroid, in an attempt to ensure normal genital development. The intervention is described as both highly effective and “safe for mother and child” by its leading proponent, Dr. Maria New . . . ”

    In extreme cases of classical CAH a child’s genitalia can become extremely masculinized and an androgenized clitoris can track toward male development even w/out androgen producing testes. What New’s treatments do is redirect that masculine development in what, endocrinologically speaking, is a sex changing treatment.

    The article says the treatment can begin at the 7th week of gestation:

    “Since the virilizing effects of CAH can begin as early as seven weeks post-conception, dexamethasone is started as soon as an at-risk woman learns she is pregnant. Fetal gender cant reliably be determined until chorionic villus sampling (CVS) is performed at 10-12 weeks of gestation, however, which means that 50 percent of the exposed fetuses–the males, whose genital development is unaffected by CAH–will receive no benefit at all while still being exposed to potentially serious side effects.”

    Wikipedia says fetal sex determination can be done w/ 98% accuracy at the 8th week of pregnancy but many are aware of the fact that actual fetal sex development doesn’t begin until the 2nd trimester.


    “CAH is diagnosed prenatally by chorionic villus sampling (CVS) at approximately 14 weeks of gestation, or later, at approximately 20 weeks, by amniocentesis (Figure 1). However, genital organogenesis begins at approximately 9 weeks of gestation, and excess fetal androgen production causes genital virilization in female fetuses (Figure 1). To prevent genital ambiguity in female fetuses affected with classical CAH, dexamethasone is administered to the mother starting before 9 weeks of gestation (5). Current invasive prenatal diagnosis does not yield genetic results until later (Figure 1).”

    So, it is possible to know at 14 weeks that a child might develop with an adrenal gland that produces so much testosterone it will cause a child to develop more towards the male end of the sex spectrum. This is where a parent might choose not to carry a child to term if it were worried that an otherwise healthy child’s difference might cause a parent, or both, to choose to terminate the pregnancy.

    How many further implications does this single scenario involve? Again, from the Our Bodies Ourselves blog post:

    “overall only 1 in 8 exposed fetuses (12.5 percent) are at risk for genital virilization and thus stand to benefit from the intervention. . . . ”

    Academic papers have been written on the issue of parental rights, which involve more than simply “a woman’s right to choose”. I don’t believe the implications involved have really been considered in this discussion. This is a very well known paper on the issue of sexual orientation selection:

    “As we learn more about the causes of sexual orientation, the likelihood increases that parents will one day be able to select the orientation of their children. This possibility (at least that of selecting for heterosexuality) . . .”

    If one carefully reads the Our Bodies Ourselves blog one should be able to understand that the Bailey/Greenberg paper involves a lot more than hypotheticals:

    “New’s secondary treatment goal–the prevention of “behavioral masculinization” that can accompany CAH. In a 2001 lecture to a CAH parent support group, New declared her intention to “restore this baby to the normal female appearance–with her eventually becoming somebody’s wife, and having normal sexual development, and becoming a mother.” . . .


    “Rather than a legitimate treatment goal, Dreger, Feder, and Tamar-Mattis instead saw this as a problematic attempt to medically “prevent” lesbianism. And indeed, while not overtly declaring lesbianism as a target, Dr. New does describe prenatal dexamethasone treatment of CAH-induced behavioral masculinization as a “paradigm for prenatal diagnosis and treatment.””

    So, in light of all this, Bailey/Greenberg’s hypothetical is far from hypothetical. At 14 weeks the likeliness of a sexual orientation, disregarding any sex identity issues such a potential person may have, can be determined if there is concern that a child may be born with CAH.

    I only used the example involving congenital adrenal hyperplasia because there has been so much written about the kind of things New York doctors, Maria New and Dix Poppas have been doing. CAH presents only one possible scenario, involving not only sex selection but sex determination where sex development and resulting sex traits come into play.

    Claudia Astorino, I don’t believe, has the intersex variation known among those who karyotype as XX as CAH. In fact, I believe she possesses a Y chromosome but also a gene, carried on an autosome that caused her to be resistant to testosterone which aromatizes into estrogen and causes typical external female development in a fetus and at puberty, if no medical interventions are imposed. She is an intersex activist, however, who also sounds the alarm over pre-natal screenings for intersex traits, which is definitely a form of “sex selection”, even if it exists beneath the radar of most:

    “As an avid proponent of reproductive rights, I strongly feel that safe, legal abortion must be accessible for everyone, including trans* people, gender-nonconforming people, and intersex folks like me. That being said, I’m concerned—disturbed, really—by an increasingly common feature of prenatal care that’s affecting my community: screening for intersex traits in utero, and making reproductive decisions based on that screening.

    And I can’t help but feel that this simply isn’t OK.”

    There is so much polarity involved on the issue of bodily self determination that really prevents a thoughtful discussion. It always takes place in an illusory either/or binary world where people dig in, take sides and a “my side right or wrong” kind of position that only leaves a trail of winners and losers as if life is some sort of a football game. The right to choose and issues involving consent and bodily self determination can get complicated, to say the least.

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