According to a new article circulated by the abortion advocacy organization Ipas, widespread access to “safe abortion” trumps concerns over the gender imbalance stemming from “sex selective” abortion.
As sex-selective abortion overwhelmingly targets unborn girls, the article by Ipas senior research and policy advisor Bela Ganatra acknowledges that the issue divides the “reproductive rights community.” Abortion advocates are “often torn between their desire to allow women to choose when and if to have children, and their own personal disagreement with the basis for that choice.” Ipas, however, comes down on the side of widespread access to abortion, even if this means a female “birth dearth.”
Sex-selected abortion, or “gendercide,” as some feminist critics call it, is a practice whereby parents choose to terminate a pregnancy because the unborn child is not of the desired sex. It is generally carried out against baby girls. The practice has led to unnatural gender imbalances in some countries, mostly in Asia, where in some areas of China, for instance, as many as 150 boys are born for every 100 girls, creating a dramatic demographic crisis.
In response, some governments have banned sex-detection tests and outlawed sex-selected abortion. Ipas claims that as a result of these policies, “tremendous pressure emerges to control and restrict all second-trimester abortions,” the time when most sex-selected abortions occur. Ipas argues that “providers, afraid of being accused of providing sex-selective abortions, may limit their services to the first trimester, even when second-trimester services are legal.”
In “Maintaining Access to Safe Abortion and Reducing Sex Ratio Imbalances in Asia” published in the latest issue of Reproductive Health Matters, Ganatra prioritizes access to abortion and argues that it is necessary to address “son preference” as the root cause, rather than on policies which place restrictions on abortion. Ganatra fears that outlawing sex-selected abortion is “starting to have adverse effects on the already limited access to safe and legal second trimester abortion for reasons other than sex selection” and that the issue is being used “as a front to promote anti-choice messages.”
Ganatra criticizes media campaigns like those in India that discourage sex-selected abortions for using “loaded words” that “personify the fetus,” claiming that these foster an “anti-abortion climate” which threatens “the gains made in making abortion safe.” Ganatra also criticizes the United Nations (UN) and some of its agencies for supporting efforts which use terminology that condemn sex-selective abortion as murder. She blasts the UN for using terms like ‘feticide’ and opposing sex selection in favor of the right of unborn girls to be born,” arguing that human rights only “begin at birth.”
Ipas and Ganatra conclude that the use of prenatal technology and selective abortions as a “pathway through which son preference results in an imbalanced sex ratio” but dismiss efforts to combat the problem with policies that hinder access to abortion.
Demographers project that there are as many as 100 million missing baby girls because of sex-selected abortion. A 2007 initiative to tackle sex-selected abortion head-on at the UN was derailed by abortion-rights NGOs and the European Union because some European states opposed condemning abortion for any reason.