Abortion Wars Update

The capricious and arbitrary abortion clinic regulations that went into effect in Kansas this week have closed two of the state’s three abortion providers. I suspect the law was written carefully to do just that; by leaving one clinic open, the criminalizers can argue the law wasn’t written just to close abortion clinics. A court may place a temporary injunction on the closures any time now, though.

Elsewhere — gender-selection abortion is a hot issue again. A few days ago Ross Douthat wrote a column in which he expressed deeply felt and tender concern for the number of girl babies aborted in India and China, and said western liberals ought to be very uncomfortable with this, because obviously if abortion weren’t available it wouldn’t be happening.

Let me make it clear that I find the practice of aborting babies for gender preference appalling, but it also comes under the heading of Stuff I Can’t Do Anything About Because It’s Happening In Someone Else’s Country. And I don’t think my wagging a finger at India and saying “hey, there, stop doing that!” will have any effect.

However, one could blame ultrasound as much as abortion, because if ultrasound weren’t available I suspect it wouldn’t be happening, either. And if places where this is happening keep ultrasound and outlaw abortion, I submit about the same number of sex-selection abortions would still be performed illegally. The fault is not with legal abortion, but with cultures that devalue girls. The solution is not to criminalize abortion — which just drives abortion underground while it further devalues women — but to raise the status of women in those cultures, which eliminates the demand for gender selection abortion.

Of course that’s much easier said that done, but it’s the only effective way to stop this tragic practice, since there is no evidence it is happening in developed democracies where girls are as valued as boys.

This reminded me of another rightie who once commented on the pregnancies terminated for gender selection in developing countries, saying,

In countries where a woman has a virtually unfettered right to choose abortion, the result is that women overwhelmingly choose to abort female fetuses.

When I pointed out to this genius that there are many parts of the world in which women have an unfettered right to choose abortion, but in which no gender imbalance is taking place, he came up with a spirited but utterly nonsensical argument that women still choose to abort female fetuses anyway, nyah nyah nyah. He admitted himself that the only sex selection that may be taking place in the U.S. appears to be happening in ethnic Asian populations, which rather proved my point that culture, not “unfettered choice,” is causing this phenomenon, but he was unable to grasp this distinction.

I take it that several years ago, strategists among pro-criminalizaton activists came up with Asia’s gender selection issue as a way to make western liberals uncomfortable with abortion, or to force us into a debate over whether the right to choose includes gender selection — since girls, presumably, will be the gender targeted for termination. And then, of course, if women don’t have a right to gender-select, then the right to abortion is not absolute and can be picked apart.

Now that rebuttals to Douthat have gone up around the web (see, for example, Matt Yglesias and Mara Hvistendahl), I’ve been thinking about this issue a bit more.

And I have a question — is gender selection abortion being performed in the U.S. at all? There is no authoritative agency that provides data on why abortions are performed, so we can only guess. I understand that by comparing gender ratios of newborns, statistics suggest that some gender selection may be taking place in ethnic Asian populations in the U.S., but the ratio of boy and girl babies nationwide doesn’t indicate that any girls are missing.

The authors of one one website have done an excellent job pulling together actual data pertaining to gender selection in the U.S. From this I learned —

Girl babies actually are highly prized in America. Studies from all over the place show that American couples seeking to adopt a baby prefer girls over boys.

Further, when couples attempt to manipulate conception to tilt the odds in favor of one gender over another, they are more likely to try for a girl rather than a boy.

So if Americans are using abortion to select gender, wouldn’t we be seeing a reduced number of boys, not girls? And, indeed, the gender selection website says that the ratio of girls to boys has gone up a tick in the U.S. since Roe v. Wade, although there may be reasons for that beside abortion. In some parts of the world, high levels of certain man-made chemicals in the environment are causing far more girls to be born than boys.

Nature herself seems to have worked out a 51 to 49 ratio of boy births to girl births, and this ratio has been pretty constant in the U.S. and most other industrialized democracies for a long time.

One other point that I think is significant — I understand that most pregnant American women these days learn the gender of their babies by ultrasound at about the 20th week of gestation, give or take, which is pretty far along. Only about 1 percent of all abortions in the U.S. take place after that point. A very small percentage of women learn the gender before that, by amniocentesis, but physicians generally won’t perform amnio unless they think something is wrong because of the slight chance of causing miscarriage.

So we’re talking about late second trimester abortions here, and while they may fall into the period of legal elective abortion, they are pushing the edge of it. And I’m saying not many women are going to voluntarily take a pregnancy that far and then terminate only because they preferred the other gender. It would be like climbing halfway up Mount Everest and then going back to the bottom to get your other camera.

And, yes, that this happens commonly in some places says something pretty horrendous about those places.

One other thing — I’m also seeing the “what if they find a gay gene and then people could abort gay babies” argument. Yeah, right. It may be that someday embryos routinely will get a complete genetic screening so that parents can see the odds that their child might someday develop Alzheimer’s or breast cancer or, yes, same-sex preference. But by the time such a practice becomes reality, if ever, maybe we’ll have cures for Alzheimer’s and breast cancer, and no one will care about sexual preference. Frankly, I doubt any child ever is conceived without some genes predictive of some eventual misfortune, so any couple dippy enough to aim for perfect is likely to not reproduce at all.

So this is a bridge that may never have to be crossed, and I don’t see us coming to it any time soon. Let’s keep our eyes on problems we actually have, shall we?

15 thoughts on “Abortion Wars Update

  1. This sex-based abortion argument is a specious one, at best.
    Not to put them down, but Oriental cultures have long been dominated by males. Sure, there have been Queens and Empresses in Oriental countries, but that’s a reflection of the power structures and inheritance rules, rather than a consderation of equality for women. China, in earlier time, bound women’s feet. Japan, in earlier times, extolled giving daughters to undergo Geisha training as a way up and out.
    And yes, there have been more Empresses, Queens, and female Presidents and leaders, all around the world than here in America, since there hasn’t, as yet, been one, but that is not an argument here about trying to to limit abortion to give women a greater opportunity. Some men may be willing to perform a late term abortion, called murder, by assassinating the next viable woman candidate – but probably only if the candidate is a Liberal or a Democrat.
    The choice deniers care only about limiting the vessel, not what it carries. They are determined that that ship, once boarded, complete its voyage. This is, to me, is as male dominated a choice as aborting female fetus’s, binding feet, and selling female children into Geishahood.
    What is amazing to me is that they are able to get as many women to sell out their mothers, daughters, and sisters, in the name of God and Jesus. But then, what are most religions other than ways to support the existing power structure? And that structure has favored men over women over a long time. I don’t want to get into this again, because I think I wrote about that here a long, long time ago, but it’s no accident that as we went from hunter-gatherer’s to growers and harvesters, we switched from ‘Mother Earth’ based religious beliefs, to ones based on males – Akhetaten with his sole solar God, followed by Zues, Zoroaster, Mithras, Dionisius, Jesus, Mohammed, Smith.
    Give me back Mother Earth.

  2. These are the same idiots who also want to take away a woman’s right to have an abortion if the pregnancy was harmful to her. Or if she was raped. Or for any reason.
    They worry about unborn female girls but don’t give a damn about woman.
    So who are they really concerned for?

  3. OT – but, what might have been if Sandra Day O’Connor stayed on the SCOTUS until now, or at least waited until Obama came into office:



    maha, just a suggestion – but it might be kind of a fun conversation over the July 4th weekend if you did a ‘What might have been?” piece about the last 10+ years over the weekend, and let people dream, and also get some anger out of their systems.

    If some of the faithful readers are not going to be around for the next few days, I’d like to wish them a Happy 4th of July!!!

  4. Michelle Goldberg makes an interesting point about the sex-selective abortion issue in India in her book “The Means of Reproduction.” She notes that the legalization of abortion in the United States came about because of the feminist movement, but in India, abortion was introduced as part of family planning programs, and it is well-educated and more affluent Indian women who are most likely to have access to ultrasounds and most commonly have sex-selective abortions. The rather obvious answer is to raise women’s status, as we have done in the United States and Western Europe. In any event, I recommend Ms. Goldberg’s book.

  5. Pingback: The Mahablog » Abortion Wars Update | Gender Selection Web

  6. c u n d gulag,

    Happy 4th to you and Happy Birthday USA ! !

    I’ll be here all week end. 🙂

  7. In Arizona they passed a law banning the abortion of fetuses on racial grounds – despite producing no evidence whatsoever that this was a problem in Arizona.

  8. Ray, please explain. I’m having a hard time imagining how that would work.. I’m a white woman and just found out that I’m having black baby and I don’t have any idea of how it could happened since I don’t play around with black men and I wasn’t raped by a black man… but I’m going to have an abortion because the baby is black (and not for some other reason like I can’t afford a baby right now)? Where do these people get their ideas?

  9. Ross Douthat is always able to adopt the “morally superior” pose in manner that only a condescending prig of the highest order can achieve. He is able to combine distortion, self-importance and specious argument in such a singularly distasteful way. The man’s a genius, of sorts.

    Remember cundgulag, all those little packages of firecrackers specifically call for ADULT SUPERVISION. Alcohol and fireworks don’t mix and fingers are nice to have.

  10. PurpleGirl ..The idea is to extend constitutional protections to the unborn. Even though there is no basis in reality for such a law it does introduce racial discrimination as a motivation for wanting to have an abortion. Planned Parenthood was charged with a similar smear back in the early days of its inception in its advocacy of birth control. The claim was that PP’s underlying purpose was to eradicate or blacks, or Irish Catholics, or some other racial or ethnic group.

    These people are determined to come against abortion in any form that they can utilize, concrete or abstract, because it all chips away at women’s rights to self determination and autonomy.

    I think that the Arizona law is a classic Dick Cheney/Conservative ploy designed to frustrate opponents by using the “you can’t prove a negative” concept as a major weapon in their battle to destroy women’s rights

  11. I can understand Ross Douthat’s dilemma. When you’ve got to fill a page and there is no material in your relevance file, you go to your injustice file. And if that’s a little thin then you go to your historical injustice file to dig up some workable material.. Ah, Here we go…Persecution of Saphardic Jews in Ethiopia at the turn of the 20th Century..That’ll spin their heads around and satisfy my editors!

  12. And the scary thing is that these deluded anti-choice people see themselves as some sort of righteous Martin Luther King like advocates for fetal civil rights, never mind that it forces women go through “Forced Labor.”
    But then, ‘forcing’ women, is what it’s all about, isn’t it? One way, or the other…

    And who’s going to care for these unwanted, most probably unloved, if not outright hated and resented, children when they do leave the womb?
    Who gives a flying f*ck?
    They don’t!
    They’ll say, “The Lord will provide…”

  13. Life Expectancy Drops for Women in Nearly 25% of US Counties.

    Researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation this month published a county-by-county analysis of life expectancy. From 1987 to 1997, there were 227 counties where female life expectancy dropped. From 1997 to 2007, the number of counties where women’s life expectancy dropped exploded to 737.

    I’m reminded of how all mortality measures plummeted in the Soviet Union as it went through its collapse.

  14. Swami — thanks. My brain wants to explode when I try to understand their trains of thought. I know they are using logic or a coherent set of ideas.

  15. ack… the last sentence should be: I know they are NOT using logic or a coherent set of ideas.

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