The recent 34th anniversary of China’s “one-child policy” has focused renewed attention on sex-selection abortions.
According to Reggie Littlejohn of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, “there are an estimated 37 million more men than women in China today. This gender imbalance is a major force driving sexual slavery of women and girls in Asia.”
In certain parts of India, “decades of sex-selective abortion have created an acute lack of women” according to a recent CNN report. “Traffickers capitalize on the shortage by recruiting or kidnapping women ensnared in poverty to sell as brides.”
The problem seems to be spreading in other countries as well. In 2013, Elena Ralli reported at New Europe Online:
Recent statistics indicate that gendercide, meaning the abortion of female fetuses because the family wishes to have a male offspring, is no longer confined only in China and India, but has become a European problem as well, especially in the Balkans.
According to a recent study by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in Albania, 112 boys are born for every 100 girls, while in Kosovo and Montenegro the figures stand at 110 and 109 boys per 100 girls respectively. …
In countries like Albania and Macedonia these EU laws [against sex selection abortion] are being ignored since female births keep on decreasing[;] however, women’s rights activists also see a trend towards gender selection in EU member states as well. As a result, Danish media have indicated the existence of “abortion tourism” to Sweden, where terminating a pregnancy is legal until the 18th week. Moreover, studies from Norway and Britain suggest a gender imbalance among immigrants from Asian cultures, especially among second and third children.
Are Sex-Selection Abortion Happening in the U.S.?
But research suggests otherwise:
Jason Abrevaya of the University of Texas analyzed U.S. birth data and found unusually high boy-birth percentages after 1980 among later children (most notably third and fourth children) born to Chinese and Asian-Indian mothers. Moreover, using maternally linked data from California, he found that Asian-Indian mothers are significantly more likely both to have a terminated pregnancy and to give birth to a son when they have previously only given birth to girls.
Columbia University economists Douglas Almond and Lena Edlund also found clear evidence of sex-selective abortions in what they called “son-biased sex ratios,” that is, a higher ratio of boys to girls than would occur in nature. Looking at the sex ratio at birth among U.S.-born children of Chinese, Korean, and Asian-Indian parents, they found that first-borns showed normal sex ratios at birth. But if the first child was a girl, the sex ratio jumped to 117, and if the first two children were girls, then the sex ratio jumped to 151. That is to say, for every 151 boys, there were only 100 hundred surviving girls. The rest had been eliminated.
Coerced and Forced Abortions
In 2011, Dr. Sunita Puri published a paper in Social Science and Medicine detailing 65 interviews with Indian immigrant women who had sought to find out the sex of their unborn children:
Women spoke of son preference and sex selection as separate though intimately related phenomena, and the major themes that arose during interviews included the sociocultural roots of son preference; women’s early socialization around the importance of sons; the different forms of pressure to have sons that women experienced from female in-laws and husbands; the spectrum of verbal and physical abuse that women faced when they did not have male children and/or when they found out they were carrying a female fetus; and the ambivalence with which women regarded their own experience of reproductive “choice.” We found that 40 percent of the women interviewed had terminated prior pregnancies with female fetuses and that 89 percent of women carrying female fetuses in their current pregnancy pursued an abortion.
Puri found that “women are both the assumed beneficiaries of reproductive choice while remaining highly vulnerable to family violence and reproductive coercion.”
“They also made clear that they were not free actors when it came to reproductive ‘choice,'” wrote Steven Mosher of the Population Research Institute. “Many, when it was learned that they were carrying girls, became the victims of family violence. Some — in an effort to make them miscarry — had been slapped and shoved around by angry husbands and in-laws, or even kicked in the stomach. Others were denied food, water, and rest in order to coerce them into aborting their unwanted girl babies
In an article for Slate, Puri noted that some doctors are willing to look the other way even if a woman is undergoing an unwanted abortion:
Asking a woman for her reasons for wanting a boy or a girl, one doctor told me, is simply not a physician’s responsibility or business; educating her on the latest technology is. Doctors have to trust that patients know their lives, families, and needs best, he said. In some cases, a physician may know—and loathe—the reasons behind a patient’s choice, yet still believe that providing sex selection may help her. If a woman faces threats of divorce, abandonment, or abuse, or if her child would ultimately be mistreated or neglected, then aborting an unwanted female or implanting male embryos may help keep that woman—and any future children—safe.
But does abortion keep women and their children safe? Puri interviewed an ob/gyn resident who performed an abortion on an Indian immigrant who had learned she was having a girl. The woman told the doctor she needed the abortion because because she already had one daughter and her husband and in-laws expected her to have a boy. But the abortion didn’t resolve the problem:
She ultimately performed two more abortions for Priya, who adamantly refused to have another daughter. Eventually, Priya did have a son, and Carpenter was thrilled, hoping that she would finally find peace and acceptance in her family. She was shocked when Priya returned two years later, saying she was pregnant with another girl that she needed to terminate. Priya had provided her in-laws with a son, only to discover that they still didn’t want any more daughters.
Ending Sex-Selection and Forced Abortions
In China, Women’s Rights Without Frontiers has developed the Save a Girl Campaign, which provides financial support and emergency help for families facing coerced or forced abortions, or who might otherwise end up aborting or abandoning their daughters.
In the U.S., the Center Against Forced Abortions provides legal help for women and girls who are being pressured or coerced to abort, and training for organizations that help women in crisis pregnancies. Other organizations providing assistance and options for pregnant women can be found here.
The Elliot Institute has also developed model legislation that would hold abortion clinics liable for failing to screen for coerced and unwanted abortions in any situation, and to screen women for factors that put them at risk for psychological problems after abortion. Laws based on this legislation have been passed in Nebraska and South Dakota.
Sex-Selective Abortion Thrives in America
The United States Has a Femicide Problem
Woman Fights India’s Sex-Selective Abortion Epidemic (video)
While India’s Girls Are Aborted, Brides Are Wanted
China: 34 Years of Brutal “One-Child” Policy