Today, March 8, the UN’s International Women’s Day (IWD), pro-abortion organizations around the world will tell us that women want and need universal access to abortion— that it is their reproductive right. A number of international pro-abortion organizations, including the Population Institute, Ipas, CHANGE, Catholics for Choice, Women Deliver, and the Center for Reproductive Rights are staging a tweet fest today using the hashtag #IWD2016 and claiming “Access to Safe and Legal Abortion is a Human Right.”
Ignored will be the millions of little women in the womb who are denied the most critical human right—the right to life—and whose lives will be violently ended through sex-selection abortion. If these girls could speak, let alone sing, they would surely tell the world, “Girls just want to be born.”
History and Scope of Prenatal Sex Selection
These girls would be joined by the chorus of over 160 million girls in Asia who received a death sentence in acts of gendercide—elimination based on sex—simply because they were not boys. Sex-selection abortion is widely known to occur in countries with a cultural preference for boys, especially China and India, but the violent practice was not indigenous. Prenatal sex-determination technology was exported to these countries when the Population Council recommended sex-selection abortion as an “ethical” way to control population.
In her book Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, Mara Hvistendahl explains the actions that transpired in the United States:
By August 1969, when the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Population Council convened another workshop on population control, sex selection had become a pet scheme. . . . Sex selection, moreover, had the added advantage of reducing the number of potential mothers . . . if a reliable sex determination technology could be made available to a mass market, there was “rough consensus” that sex selection abortion “would be an effective, uncontroversial and ethical way of reducing the global population.”
The scheme was successful. Today, millions of women in Asia are “missing”—never to dream, play, work, or become mothers. The long-term impact of the millions of “missing girls” includes increased violence against women and girls with increases in sex trafficking, forced prostitution, and the kidnapping and selling of women and girls as brides.
There is no disputing the link between sex-selection abortion and the rise of violence against women and girls. Organizations that work to stop gender-based violence (GBV) need look no further than the tragedy of prenatal sex selection for the beginnings of GBV. But present-day pro-abortion politics stand in the way and prevent most from opposing this first act of violence based on gender.
The unprecedented death of millions of girls has been equated to a “global war against baby girls” by demographer Nicholas Eberstadt. He warns:
The practice has become so ruthlessly routine in many contemporary societies that it has impacted their very population structures, warping the balance between male and female births, and consequently skewing the sex ratios for the rising generation toward a biologically unnatural excess of males. This still-growing international predilection for sex-selective abortion is by now evident in the demographic contours of dozens of countries around the globe —and it is sufficiently severe that it has come to alter the overall sex ratio at birth of the entire planet, resulting in millions upon millions of new “missing baby girls” each year. In terms of its sheer toll in human numbers, sex-selective abortion has assumed a scale tantamount to a global war against baby girls.
For many women and girls in China who survived the prenatal “search and destroy” missions of the global war against baby girls, the state of their lives is dismal. China has one of the highest female suicide rates in the world, as 590 women a day ended their own lives in 2012, according to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The elderly, especially women advanced in years, suffer the loss of missing girls acutely. Millions of missing daughters and daughters-in-law, who had they been allowed to be born, would likely be caregivers today. With the breakdown of the family unit, the government struggles to provide for elder-care and security. The situation for men seeking to marry and establish a family is also bleak, leading to concerns about the demographic stability of China, which the recent alleged relaxation of its coercive one-child population control policy to allow for two approved births per couple cannot solve.
Opposition to Sex Selection
Gains were made in the global war on unborn baby girls at the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995. The Platform for Action unequivocally stated opposition to the use of sex-determination techniques to identify the presence of an unborn baby girl in the womb leading to her subsequent death. Paragraph 38 addressed prenatal sex selection, clearly recognizing its detrimental effect on women and girls, stating “Discrimination against women begins at the earliest stages of life and must therefore be addressed from then onwards.”
The World Conference on Women also recognized that son-preference bias not only discriminates against girls and limits a girl’s access to basic necessities, but endangers “even life itself.” While global efforts to ensure girls’ access to food, education, and health care have been emphasized in universal agreements since Beijing, endeavors to ensure that girls have universal access to “life itself” have been stymied by a global failure to embrace consistent non-discriminatory protection of girls beginning “at the earliest stages of life,” owing to pro-abortion activists at the United Nations.
Tragically, the three most dangerous words in some parts of the world continue to be “It’s a girl,” reflecting an anti-girl attitude that has resulted in distorted birth ratios in China, India, and Vietnam. Such distorted birth ratios are now appearing in Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kosovo, Liechtenstein, and Montenegro in Europe and Asia and in ethnic communities in the United States.
The organization All Girls Allowed, founded by 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy movement student leader Chai Ling, is working to save the lives of girls in China today. According to the organization, “Every day in China, the words ‘It's a girl!’ are received with sadness and disappointment, leading many Chinese couples to engage in gendercide: the act of eliminating girls by pre-natal sex selection, infanticide, abandonment and trafficking.” All Girls Allowed seeks to restore joy to women who give birth to girls and provides a monthly stipend that it ensures is used for a baby girl’s nutrition, clothing, and shelter in the first year of her life through its Baby Shower Gift program.
Laws Banning Sex Selection
Laws against prenatal elimination based on sex are not always enforced despite the fact that abortions for sex selection are illegal in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, India, the United Kingdom (which banned sex selection abortion for “social reasons”), and Vietnam. Seven states—Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota—have laws prohibiting sex-selection abortion. A vote in the US House of Representatives to ban sex-selection abortion in May 2012 received overwhelming support by a vote of 246 in favor to 168 opposed. Senate bill 48, the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2015, was introduced in January 2015 and is under consideration by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.
Legislation to ban sex-selection abortion is criticized by pro-abortion activists. A review of US state laws—Replacing Myths with Facts: Sex-Selective Abortion Laws in the United States—produced by the International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School questions the motivation for such laws: “Restricting access to abortion is the primary motivation for sex-selective abortion bans. All the bans have been proposed and supported by people who oppose abortion generally.” The writers ought to acquaint themselves with the Beijing Platform for Action, far from a pro-life document, and its recommendation to governments in paragraph 283d: “Enact and enforce legislation protecting girls from all forms of violence, including female infanticide and prenatal sex selection.”
Recognition of the need for enactment and rigorous enforcement of legislation to protect girls from prenatal sex selection is clear. Opposition to pro-girl legislation reveals blatant hypocrisy—pro-abortion organizations who profess they act on behalf of women and girls but support the act of sex-selection abortion whose only purpose is to end the life of a girl. Abortion is so sacrosanct to the abortion movement that it is willing to sacrifice the lives of millions of girls on the altar of “choice.”
An advance in technology to detect the sex of an unborn child, as well as chromosomal abnormalities, is adding urgency to the need to enact and implement laws against sex-selection abortion. Reggie Littlejohn, President of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, warned the Congressional-Executive Commission on China in December about noninvasive prenatal testing (NIPT), which uses the mother’s blood to determine the sex of the child as early as the seventh week of pregnancy, with results available within forty-eight hours. Littlejohn stated, “Where brutal son preference meets non-invasive, early sex determination of a fetus, inevitably baby girls will be selectively aborted.”
Hope for the Future
Countries impacted by distorted birth ratios and son-preference can look to South Korea as a model of success for achieving transformational cultural change that respects and protects girls from violence beginning in the earliest stages of life. According to Eberstadt in “The Global War Against Baby Girls,” improvement in South Korea
was influenced less by government policy than by civil society: more specifically, by the spontaneous and largely uncoordinated congealing of a mass movement for honoring, protecting, and prizing daughters. In effect, this movement—drawing largely but by no means exclusively on the faith-based community—sparked a national conversation of conscience about the practice of female feticide. This conversation was instrumental in stigmatizing the practice, not altogether unlike the way in which nationwide conversations of conscience helped to stigmatize international slave-trading in other countries in earlier times. The best hope today in the global war against baby girls may be to carry this conversation of conscience to other lands.
The global pro-life movement will continue to speak out and defend the girl child. We must work to oppose all acts of gender-based violence, protect women’s and girls’ lives, and seek consistent non-discriminatory life-affirming laws and policies. The innate right to life of unborn baby girls comes first in the universal quest for women’s and girls’ equality and empowerment, goals that can only truly be achieved when applied consistently during all stages of life, with no exceptions.
Today, on International Women’s Day, let us remember the silent song and message of the millions and millions of missing girls and women whose lives were ended through sex-selection abortion: “Girls just want to be born.” May we be renewed and reenergized in the noble task to ensure that the lives of all girls are protected in law and valued in life.
Marie Smith is the Director of the Parliamentary Network for Critical Issues (PNCI) and works with legislators around the world to advance respect for life in law and policy.