Nearly nine out of ten Americans oppose abortion for reasons of sex selection, but such acts of gender violence are neither illegal nor uncommon in our country. Permissive abortion laws and high-resolution ultrasounds make it easier than ever for parents to target and eliminate unwanted daughters (or sons) before birth.
Until the recent spate of negative publicity focused public attention on such crimes, it was not unusual to find abortionists advertising the availability of sex-selective abortions in newspapers such as the New York Times.
Anyone who has lived in and worked with the Asian-American community, as I have, is aware that the practice of selectively aborting female fetuses is disturbingly common. Women and their daughters are both victimized.
Sunita Puri, an Asian-Indian physician, interviewed 65 immigrant Indian women in the United States who had pursued fetal sex selection. Her study, published this year in Social Science and Medicine, found that a shocking 89% of the women carrying girls aborted during the study, and that nearly half had previously aborted girls. These women told of how they had been mistreated by their families when they were found to be carrying girls; how their husbands or in-laws had shoved them around, kicked them in the abdomen, or denied them food, water, rest in an attempt to induce an abortion. Even the women who were carrying boys told of their guilt over past sex-selection abortion, and the feeling of being unable to "save" their daughters.
Many would deny that such things happen here, but the numbers do not lie. An analysis of 2000 Census data found clear evidence of sex-selective abortions in what the authors called "son-biased sex ratios,” that is, a higher ratio of boys to girls than would occur in nature.
The 2008 study, by Columbia University economists Douglas Almond and Lena Edlund, examined the sex ratio at birth among U.S.-born children of Chinese, Korean and Asian-Indian parents. They found that the first-born children of Asians showed normal sex ratios at birth, roughly 106 girls for every 100 boys. If the first child was a son, the sex ratio of the second-born children was also normal.
But what happened if the first child was a girl? In that case, they found, the sex ratio for second births was 117, meaning that the second child tended to be a boy. To put it another way, roughly 10 percent of girls had been eliminated.
"This male bias is particularly evident for third children,” they reported. “If there was no previous son, sons outnumbered daughters by 50%." Their raw numbers showed that, for every 151 boys, there were only 100 hundred surviving girls. The rest had been eliminated.
The authors quite rightly interpret this "deviation in favor of sons" the only way they possibly could, namely, as "evidence of sex selection, most likely at the prenatal stage." In other words, as early as a decade ago, Asian-American communities in the U.S. were already practicing sex-selective abortion.
Moreover, they went on to note, whether a mother gave birth to a boy could not be predicted by her immigration status. Indeed, mothers who were U.S. citizens were slightly more likely to have sons.
This means that sex selection is not a tradition from the old country that easily dies out, and further underlines the need to outlaw the process.
It is difficult to say how many sex-selection abortions take place in the U.S. each year. But consider that there are 3.9 million Chinese-Americans, 2.8 million Asian-Indians, and 1.6 million Korean-Americans living in the United States. The numbers of Asian-Indians, in particular, has doubled over the last two decades. The highly skewed sex ratios found by Almond and Edlund suggest that, among these groups alone, tens of thousands of unborn girls have been eliminated for no other reason than they are considered by some to be the wrong sex.
Those who argue against PreNDA do so on the grounds that sex selective abortion is not really a problem here. They are wrong.
Steven W. Mosher leads the Population Research Institute.