In a remarkable case of inauspicious timing, a writer at Slate chose the eve of the 25th anniversary of the brutal crushing of dissent in Tiananmen Square to attack sponsors of efforts to stop abortions for the purpose of sex selection. Defenders of the unpopular policy of permitting such abortions have staked much of their efforts on making it appear that opposition to sex-selective abortion — which is almost universally used to end the prenatal lives of females — is based on racial prejudice against Asian Americans. A lethal gender prejudice is therefore tolerable because condemning it is a form of ethnic bigotry.
The ploy is clever in its way, but ultimately absurd. Sex-selective abortion bans would evince racial prejudice if they were applied solely against a racial group or were reflective of a belief that only certain racial groups would engage in such a practice. But the history and evidence of the development of sex-selective abortion and related practices show persuasively that they arise not as a result of beliefs inherent to a single nation or ethnic subgroup, but rather from traditions of son preference exacerbated by draconian population-control policies that limit family size by edict of the state. Population control on the scale of the People’s Republic of China’s one-child policy helped create the world’s largest instance of gendercide. And that policy’s history, as writer Mara Hvistendahl has shown, has its origin in Western-sponsored efforts to aggressively curb population growth and to do so through reducing the number of child-bearers (females) in a society.
Hvistendahl’s powerful book, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, appeared in 2011. It deserves renewed attention. Armed with new technology to detect a developing baby’s sex in the womb, population-control activists targeted females for abortion in India during the 1980s. The activists believed that aborting a male child had lower yield than aborting females because the male’s ability to reproduce is essentially unlimited while the death of a female locks out an entire line of descendants, making a more permanent population reduction possible. Introduce this strategy into a nation with a history of son preference and downward pressure from government to control population, and dramatic effects on the male–female sex ratio at birth are inevitable.
But the problems induced by these policies are not limited to China and India. Declining population and profoundly anti-natal attitudes are a worldwide phenomenon. As Jonathan Last pointed out in his Wall Street Journal review of Hvistendahl’s book, dramatically skewed sex ratios among newborns have been seen in Azerbaijan (115 males to every 100 females, instead of a natural ratio of 105-106), the Republic of Georgia (118), and Armenia (120). Demographer Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute has found skewed ratios in many other nations. In an article titled “The Global War Against Baby Girls” in The New Atlantis, Eberstadt noted gender imbalances are appearing at the population level in dozens of countries representing “most of the world’s major religious and cultural traditions: Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity.”
Sex-selective abortion — which as of 2010 had led to an imbalance of an estimated 200 million girls and women worldwide — is a near-universal phenomenon. Moreover, the practice has generally been banned by law in the Asian nations where the phenomenon emerged and became statistically significant — in China, India, and South Korea. Does it make sense to charge these nations with anti-Asian attitudes when, in fact, they are acting on a core principle of human rights? Unfortunately, China has not gone further and ended the one-child policy that reinforces so many parents’ fear about their future support by a male offspring. Nor have attitudes about the economic contributions of women progressed enough to make the temptation (duress, really, for many women who report being pressured to abort a female fetus) of sex selection abortion dissipate. But it is hard to see how preserving and justifying the legality of sex-selective abortion promotes that attitudinal change.
The evidence is that few people do see it that way. A 2012 poll for the Charlotte Lozier Institute showed that 77% of Americans support a legal ban on sex-selective abortion. Women support it more than men — an 80 percent majority. Promoting equal economic and career opportunities for women, enhancing public understanding of the value of daughters, combating trafficking in persons — each of these steps is worthy in its own right, but taking these steps without insisting that an unborn baby should not be killed simply because she is a female is radically contradictory.
Eight of our states have banned sex-selective abortion and a large majority of the U.S. House voted last year to do the same. The United States does not yet have a huge incidence of gendercide. Wouldn’t it be good to keep it that way?
— Chuck Donovan is the president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute.