Should we ban sex-selective abortion? by mattsteinglass
June 17, 2009, 1:19 am
Filed under: Asia, Gender, United States

William Saletan “attempts a gotcha” (notes Scott Lemieux) by asking pro-choicers whether they oppose restrictions on sex-selective abortions:

Would you oppose regulation even of abortions aimed at preventing the births of girls? Because there’s increasing evidence that such abortions, which take place by the millions in Asia, are now being done by the thousands in the United States as well.

I happen to live in a country where abortion as such is unrestricted and extremely common, but where abortions aimed at preventing the births of girls are illegal. In fact, here in Vietnam, it is illegal for doctors even to inform expectant parents of the sex of their child before birth, in order to preclude such sex-selective abortions. And guess what? These regulations are completely ineffective. Doctors flout the rules, telling mothers after sonograms that “it looks like you have a butterfly” (girl) or “a bird” (boy). Widespread sex-selective abortion contributes to a clearly unbalanced sex ratio at birth. According to UNFPA, in 2008, 112 boys were born for every 100 girls, up from 110 in 2006.

Saletan cites a recent NY Times article about the apparent use of sex-selective abortions among Asian-Americans. He might have noted this point made in that very article, by a doctor who performs such abortions:

“It’s a real touchy thing,” Dr. Steinberg said. “It’s illegal in Asia, and culturally, it’s private.”

Apparently, legal restrictions on sex-selective abortion don’t work in the countries where they exist. So, yes, I would oppose regulation of abortions aimed at preventing the births of girls.

That said, however, I actually agree with Saletan that these questions are worth asking:

Should schools teach that aborting girls is wrong? Should doctors counsel couples not to do it? Should community leaders speak out against it?…What about purveyors of sex selection? Roberts notes that at least one assisted reproduction provider, the Fertility Institutes, offers sex selection and “has unabashedly advertised its services in Indian- and Chinese-language newspapers in the United States.” …The clinic’s medical director, Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg, says the practice is “not harming anyone.” Is he right? Should he be allowed to continue peddling sex selection (as he does in this video) to Asian-Americans?

Yes, yes, yes, and no. The apparent high rates of abortion of girl embryos among Asian-Americans stem from the remnants of systemic prejudice against women in Asian-American culture. In the United States, we have a culture of gender equality. Our public institutions and community leaders should make it clear that aborting female embryos because they are female is wrong. And Dr. Steinberg should not be allowed to advertise the practice. To say that we should not criminalize something is not to say that people should be allowed to develop an industry around it.


5 Comments so far
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I’m not with you on the advertising front … if legal, I’m unsure why it can’t be advertised.

Also, if something is legal, there is some industry that provides it, right?

Comment by Joe

I think the best analogy is that it’s legal to hire a female secretary, but it’s not legal to advertise that you’re looking to hire a female secretary. In the case of advertising abortion of female embryos, the case is more complicated because the embryo being aborted is not a legal person, so it’s hard to show how a person is being harmed. Instead the harm is to women as a class, and to society as a whole.

Comment by mattsteinglass

My wife was recently pregnant, and we were very excited…

…until Dr. Tiller got shot.

She just couldn’t bring a child into a world where abortion providers are terrorized and murdered.

Comment by Harry R. Sohl

I commend you and you wife for terminating her pregnancy Harry. Not that Tiller was the first abortion doctor to be murdered, he wasn’t, but if that is the standard you set for a world good enough to raise children in then its probably better you don’t reproduce. Nice work.

Comment by unclemeat


LQTM. Harry, some of us got the point. Cute. Very cute.

Comment by Jeff In Boston

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