X inactivation is a type of gene dosage compensation. In humans, the sex chromosomes X and Y determine the sex of an individual - females have two X chromosomes (XX), males have one X and one Y chromosome (XY). All of the genes on the Y chromosome are required in male development, while the genes on the X chromosome are needed for both male and female development. Because females receive two X chromosomes, they inherit two copies of many of the genes that are needed for normal function. Extra copies of genes or chromosomes can affect normal development. An example is Down's syndrome, which is caused by an extra copy of part or all of chromosome 21. In female mammals, a process called X inactivation has evolved to compensate for the extra X chromosome. In X inactivation, each cell 'switches off' one of its X chromosomes, chosen at random, to ensure the correct number of genes are expressed, and to prevent abnormal development.
Here is a helpful eleven minute description of what it is and why it's important by Etsuko Uno and metafilter's own Drew Berry in a fucking gorgeous Goodsell-esque 3D animation.[more inside]
Private Ceremonies. "Most women don’t talk about their abortions and miscarriages. Virtually none go through the experience with a loved one at their side. The greatest gift an abortion counselor can give is to bear witness, to be with a woman as she goes through this private journey, to witness her strength and weakness, her grief, her relief, her pain." A first person essay from a former abortion counselor.