The #Metoo movement has, thankfully, shown a spotlight on the bullying and intimidation too commonly experienced by women at work. American women are right to be angry, and correct to connect harassment in the workplace and a worldwide culture that devalues women. But in our enthusiasm to reform a world that refuses to accept us, we need to start by rejecting the clearest expression of disdain for females: sex-selective abortion.
My own daughter is a victim of cultural preference of males, and not “missing” by a miracle. She was abandoned at birth in China and found by chance when a passerby heard her feeble cry. It is sex discrimination that causes the abandonment and exposure of girl babies, and the same kind of intolerance that drives sex-selective abortion. Organizations like NARAL and Planned Parenthood, whose rallying cry is female empowerment, hypocritically oppose laws against this discriminatory practice whenever they are proposed.
Across the world, cultural preference for boys over girls has driven a remorseless elimination of baby girls through abortion, infanticide and abandonment. In China and Korea, the cultural basis is thought to be Confucianism, which imposed a strict patrilineal inheritance and family responsibility. It is sons who are responsible for the care of elderly parents, not daughters. Similar patrilineal values probably explain the Indian male preference. Recent shocking discoveries have been made of hundreds of dead newborn girls in Pakistani trash dumps. In Karachi, 345 babies were found in trash heaps in 2017, 99 percent of them girls.
Abortion and infanticide of females have caused dangerous demographic imbalances in India and especially China. In those countries the imbalance is so great that young men are having trouble finding wives, with various negative consequences like increases in violence of men without family responsibilities, and a growing sex industry with abuse and trafficking of women. All sex-selective technologies and abortions are now illegal in these countries.
The same populations, after immigrating to the U.S. and other Western countries show a preference for girls. Studies have shown that in this country, the ratio of male to female births is higher than normal among Indian, Chinese and Korean families. This is even more marked if the first child is a girl, and if the first two children are girls, then the ratio increases to 1.5:1 in favor of boys. The normal ratio is 1.05:1, boys to girls.
However, here in the U.S. the concern over sex-selection is not primarily a demographic one, but ethical. When females are being selected against (even by a small subset of the population) it “reinforces discriminatory and sexist stereotypes toward women by devaluing females,” in the words of the World Health Organization. Making the practice illegal, as has been done in many countries and now in 10 states, strikes a moral blow against the idea that a daughter is preferable to a son, and serves to bolster the societal value of females. Even if a couple wants to “balance” their family by selecting a girl, aborting a boy is unethical, rank discrimination and prejudice.
If that is a difficult concept, imagine discarding a brown-eyed embryo and selecting one with blue eyes. One gender selection clinic advertises the ability for parents to do just that, and choose their child’s eye color. Designer baby, anyone?
Laws against sex discrimination target abortions performed because an ultrasound detected a baby of the “wrong” sex, usually female. Ultrasound is accurate as early as 15 weeks of gestation, in the hands of a good technologist. Rejecting a girl at this stage of development entails a second-trimester abortion. Recently scientists have invented a simple blood test that can tell a woman the sex of her baby at just eight weeks. This would enable first-trimester selective abortions, less expensive, easier to obtain and less painful, which would presumably increase the likelihood of the practice.
So it is irrational to do what Planned Parenthood does—to sing endlessly about the right of women to self-determination, and then file suits against laws that make it illegal to eliminate female fetuses simply for being female. It is extremely irrational when the number of women missing in the world is calculated at 100 million.
Planned Parenthood is fighting tooth and nail these laws, calling them an assault on reproductive rights. They have a bottom line to protect, and one that depends on keeping abortion as free of access barriers as possible. So they overlook the obviously discriminatory nature of sex-selection in their pursuit of “women’s rights” — even when the discrimination is heavily against the most vulnerable of women.
Grazie Pozo Christie, M.D. is a radiologist and policy adviser to The Catholic Association.