Sex-Selective Abortion Comes to America

Steven Mosher

By now, nearly everyone knows that tens of millions of unborn baby girls around the world have been aborted solely because of their sex. Ultrasound technology makes it possible to separate the boys from the girls at eighteen weeks or so, and widespread abortion makes it possible to eliminate the less desirable sex, which in most cultures means girls. Up to 200 million girls may have been killed in this way, mostly in Asian and Muslim countries.

As America’s population of Asians and Muslims continues to grow, we asked in a recent Weekly Briefing, could the same thing happen here?

According to a recent study published by the National Academies of Science, it already has.

Looking at data from the 2000 U.S Census, researchers noticed a strange phenomenon. The U.S.-born children of Chinese, Korean, and Asian Indian parents tended to be male. The researchers, Douglas Almond and Lena Edlund, called this “son-biased sex ratios.”

Taking their study a step further, they considered the effect of birth order. 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? The second child tended to be a boy. Almond and Edlund found that “This male bias is particularly evident for third children: If there was no previous son, sons outnumbered daughters by 50%.” That means that, for every 150 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.

Similar sex imbalances have also been documented among Canada’s Asian immigrant communities. The Toronto Globe & Mail reported that Figures from the 2001 census supplied by Statistics Canada suggest a slight skew in the usual gender ratio among people with South Asian backgrounds. . . . According to the 2001 census data, the proportion of girls under fifteen in the South Asian communities of Mississauga and Brampton is two percentage points below the ratio for the rest of the population in those municipalities.

Sex-selective abortion is rightly seen by many as the ultimate form of discrimination against women. Overwhelming numbers of Americans oppose the practice. According to 2006 Zogby/USA Today poll, 86% would like to see it banned.

Yet, at present, it remains legal in the U.S. to abort a child for any and all reasons, including the fact that she happens to be a little girl.

What is to be done?

Some have suggested that the use of ultrasounds to detect the sex of unborn children could be banned. This is a nonstarter. The Chinese government has such a ban in place, and it has proven completely ineffective.

Besides, ultrasound technology has been a boon for life. Sonograms have saved the lives of countless mothers and babies in high-risk pregnancies. Employed in crisis pregnancy situations, sonograms have convinced untold numbers of women that they are carrying babies (not blobs of tissue). For most couples, learning the sex of their unborn child before she was born (as my wife and I did) underlines the personhood of the unborn. It does not provide a pretext for an abortion.

I think that the answer lies elsewhere, in a straight­forward ban of sex-selective abortion itself.

Former Senator Jesse Helms, each year that he was in the U.S. Senate, introduced legislation to ban sex-selective abortion. The language was simple, yet powerful: It shall be illegal to perform an abortion for the sole purpose of sex selection.

The evil that Helms sought to preempt has now become a reality.

Where is the pro-life champion in the Senate who will carry on Helm’s battle? Where is the legislator who will seek to protect unborn baby girls from the ugliest form of misogyny imaginable, a misogyny that kills?

[Steven W. Mosher is the President of the pro-life Population Research Institute (PRI []), dedicated to ending human-rights abuses committed in the name of “family planning,” and to ending counter-productive social and economic paradigms premised on the myth of “overpopulation.” This article was originally published as PRI Weekly Briefing: April 15, 2008. The weekly briefing is available by free email subscription:]