San Francisco loves to make headlines. Its politicians clearly want their city to be widely regarded as America’s most progressive. A few years ago they were tossing around the idea of criminalizing male circumcision. In 2004 they became “pioneers” in the rush to trample America’s legislative process for the sake of legalizing same-sex marriage. Now, in its latest push for secular plaudits, San Francisco is considering a law that opposes bans on sex-selective abortion.
There are a lot of negatives in that last sentence, so let me try to clarify. Sex-selective abortion is the practice of killing an unborn child because he or she is not of the sex desired by the baby’s parents. Eight U.S. states currently ban this practice. So, if an expectant couple living in (say) Oklahoma has their heart set on a little Jill, and they discover that the woman is instead carrying a little Jack, they cannot for that reason legally kill their son.
In some countries in the world, sex-selective abortion is a fairly widespread practice. Of course, it’s hardly ever the “Jacks” who are targeted. It’s the “Jills.”
Femicide has created a sizable sex imbalance in the populations of both India and China. The problem is most egregious in China, where the recently partially “repealed” one-child policy left fathers, in particular, anxious to ensure that their one and only child be a male heir. The 2010 census showed that Chinese men outnumber women by about 34 million. It’s become a significant demographic problem, given that the country now has 34 million men whose potential brides were killed in utero.
In India, the cultural expectation that parents will supply daughters with large dowries goes some way towards explaining the practice. But in fact, recent studies suggest that more-educated and financially better-off Indian women are more likely to abort daughters. That’s partly because wealthy women are more likely to have prenatal ultrasounds, enabling them to discover the sex of their child before birth. But it may also show us where Asian families’ general preference for sons meets the global trend towards smaller families and intensely-groomed children. If they’re going to invest substantial time and resources into raising and educating one very special child, many parents would prefer that it be a son.
Even after immigrating to Western countries, some Asian communities continue to use sex-selective abortion to express their preference for sons over daughters. There have for some time been anecdotal reports of Western-dwelling Asian women seeking abortions for daughters that they or their husbands don’t want. Very often the women report feeling pressure from family to abort little girls that they themselves may wish to keep.
All told, the U.N. estimates that the world would have at least 200 million more women today, but for the practice of sex-selective abortion. Two hundred million sisters and daughters and could-be mothers are not among us, because they were killed in utero for the crime of being girls.
Douglas Almond and Lena Edlund published a study in 2008 showing that Asian parents with two daughters were significantly more likely to have a son for their third child. The study has been cited numerous times by pro-life groups campaigning for bans on sex-selective abortion. If you read the Huffington Post, Slate or Mother Jones, you might suppose that this study shows that Asian communities in the United States have ceased to practice sex-selective abortion.
A more recent study compiles data to show that, in the aggregate, Asian parents in the United States do not have more boys than girls. In fact, the overall ratio of girls to boys is slightly higher than for whites (which interesting fact the authors do not attempt to explain). Given the authors’ obvious political interest, however, it’s unsurprising that the most important finding is dropped in as surreptitiously as possible and passed over in a sentence: “Our study of pooled ACS data
confirms Almond and Edlund’s study with regard to the third births of foreign-born Chinese, Indian and Korean families that have already given birth to two girls.”
Let’s reiterate that. Almond and Edlund were right. Asian American parents with two daughters are indeed more likely to have a son for their third child. The authors don’t give us precise numbers, so it’s probably safe to assume that they are statistically significant.
It’s possible, of course, that parents are using other methods, such as sperm sorting, to ensure that they have sons. But, combined with anecdotal evidence about sex selective abortion, and the knowledge that the practice is widespread in other countries, it seems reasonable to suppose that it’s still happening in the United States.
Secularists are probably right to suggest that bans on sex-selective abortion are only minimally effective. China has banned the practice for many years, which is itself pretty good evidence that bans don’t work. In a country with wildly permissive abortion laws, there are limits to what you can do to prevent people from shunning daughters before they’re born. Obviously it’s quite easy for parents to lie about their motives for seeking an abortion.
Surely we can all agree, though, that it’s a bad thing to do? Well, perhaps not. Barack Obama opposes sex-selective abortion, but unsurprisingly, he didn’t make an issue of it during his presidential campaigns. San Francisco’s move to oppose sex-selective abortion bans is noteworthy, above all, for its gratuitousness. California has no law against sex-selective abortion. Such a law was recently proposed, but it never made it out of committee. There is no reason to suppose that the women of San Francisco are in any danger of being denied legal abortions, regardless of when or why they might want them.
It’s just another example of how, for secular feminists, abortion has attained almost the status of a sacrament. It doesn’t matter whether mothers are being pressured by relations (perhaps men!) into getting abortions they themselves don’t want. It doesn’t matter that the victims of abortion are themselves often targeted because of their sex. We must defend the right to choose at all costs, even if it equates to a right not to be chosen. Women’s actual good can’t possibly take priority over our sacred “reproductive rights.”
Congratulations, San Francisco. Your reputation as America’s most depraved city remains untarnished.
Rachel Lu teaches philosophy at the University of St. Thomas and writes for Crisis Magazine and The Federalist. Follow her on Twitter at @rclu.