The International Abortion War On Girls

Ericka Andersen /

You  might be surprised to find out where sex-selective abortion in China and other Asian countries began. A new book on sex-selection abortions, a practice The Economist magazine memorably labeled “gendercide,” examines the astonishing worldwide dimensions of this problem. What’s more, the book, written by a feminist author, demonstrates how a generation of Western population activists helped to create the sex-selection tragedy by advocating unlimited abortion and the targeting of female fetuses in the womb.  Fueled by new and often beneficial technologies like ultrasound, the ability to identify sex before birth has become a death sentence for more than 160 million baby girls around the world, killed simply for being female.

In her new book, Unnatural Selection, Mara Hvistendahl examines the consequences of sex-selective abortion practices.  Often linked to cultural preferences for sons due to their prospective earning power, sex selection abortion, Hvistendahl notes, is first practiced by wealthier families with the money to access technology and doctors.  In China, the natural gender ratio of 105 boys for every 100 girls has shifted to 121 to 100.  In some places, it’s as high as 150 to 100 – climbing higher as women have a second or third child and experience more pressure to bear a son.

In a recent panel discussion at the American Enterprise Institute, Hvistendahl said that in the country of Georgia, the average woman has had four abortions in an effort to birth a boy instead of a girl.

While the problem is more acute elsewhere, Hvistendahl blames Western countries for promoting policies that put girls at risk.  “We tend to think of this problem as something that happens in other countries…but high abortion rates are something [the U.S.] bears responsibility for,” Hvistendahl said.  Organizations like Planned Parenthood and The Ford Foundation were early proponents of abortion internationally, and even sex selection procedures, when the population control panic heated up 50 years ago.

In a review of Unnatural Selection yesterday in The Wall Street Journal, Jonathan V. Last writes:

In 1976, for instance, the medical director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, Malcolm Potts, wrote that, when it came to developing nations, abortion was even better than birth control: ‘Early abortion is safe, effective, cheap and potentially the easiest method to administer.’

The following year another Planned Parenthood official celebrated China’s coercive methods of family planning, noting that ‘persuasion and motivation [are] very effective in a society in which social sanctions can be applied against those who fail to cooperate in the construction of the socialist state.’  As early as 1969, the Population Council’s Sheldon Segal was publicly proclaiming the benefits of sex-selective abortion as a means of combating the ‘population bomb’ in the East.

Sex-selection abortion practices do occur in the United States among the same ethnic subgroups where the sex ratios are most imbalanced overseas.  Demographer Nicholas Eberstadt sees the larger trends producing these imbalances as a combination of inexpensive prenatal sex identification technology, “more or less unconditional abortion,” and the “global march to . . . sub-replacement-level fertility” that heightens the effects of son preference.

Early this year Arizona adopted a legislative ban on sex selection abortion, similar to a measure that passed in Oklahoma in 2004.  These measures have not been legally challenged to date, even though they create an exception to the abortion-on-request regime erected by Roe v. Wade and subsequent cases.  Hvistendahl would like to see an end to sex-selection abortion, but would proceed by barring doctors from giving parents information about the sex of their developing child.  Last comments:

[I]f ‘choice’ is the moral imperative guiding abortion, then there is no way to take a stand against ‘gendercide.’  Aborting a baby because she is a girl is no different from aborting a baby because she has Down syndrome or because the mother’s ‘mental health’ requires it. Choice is choice.

As Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) noted in an essay for The Heritage Foundation booklet Indivisible, the decision in Roe v. Wade confirmed that the “already born were empowered to deny, at will, the rights of persons still in the womb.”  That power continues to operate across the world with a brutal and disproportionate impact on baby girls.