******************** THIS BLOG HAS MOVED TO WWW.LEGALINSURRECTION.COM ********************

This blog is moving to www.legalinsurrection.com. If you have not been automatically redirected please click on the link.

NEW COMMENTS will NOT be put through and will NOT be transferred to the new website.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

When A Woman's Right To Choose Results In Fewer Women

Talk about the law of unintended consequences. In countries where a woman has a virtually unfettered right to choose abortion, the result is that women overwhelmingly choose to abort female fetuses.

A just published study, reported in the NY Times, of Chinese population growth ties a pending imbalance in male-female population to high rates of abortion, in part as a reaction to China's one child policy, which gives parents one shot at getting a child of their preferred gender. And most prefer male offspring:

In 2005 males under the age of 20 exceeded females by more than 32 million in China, and more than 1.1 million excess births of boys occurred. China will see very high and steadily worsening sex ratios in the reproductive age group over the next two decades.
The authors of the study suggest stricter enforcement of laws prohibiting sex-selective abortion, but such laws are very hard to enforce. India has had the same problem:

The consequences of sex-selective abortion are evident in the two largest countries in the world, China and India, where preference for sons is strong. In these countries, which together contain nearly two out of every five people in the world today, the use of prenatal ultrasound scanning to abort female fetuses has led to skewed sex ratios at birth in favor of boys and a growing gender gap.
Attempts to impose sex-selective abortion restrictions in the U.S. have met with opposition. In part this opposition is based on constitutional principles (per Roe v. Wade), but may also be based on the fact that there is evidence that there is no male-gender preference in the U.S. If government could question the motive of a woman in seeking an abortion, and deny access based on that motive, then the right to abortion would be restricted.

Supporters of unrestricted abortion, such as the Center for Reproductive Rights, support China's efforts to ban sex-selective abortions, based on principles of non-discrimination against women. But it seems as if the CRR and other pro-choice groups are trying to have it both ways. If a woman has a right to choose, then who is the CRR or the government to decide what is the right choice? Or is this Western hypocrisy at its worst, giving women in wealthy Western countries choices of which women in poorer countries are deprived?

The pro-choice movement, which paints anyone who even questions the practice as anti-woman's rights, has tied itself into a knot. And it has to live with the moral consequences of fewer women coming into being in the name of women's rights.

UPDATE: This post has received a reaction which is all too typical: Name calling masquerading as argument. Not only does one commenter label me a misogynist, but a crazed post titled "Idiots With Degrees" reveals the paucity of reason behind the furious reaction.

Stripped of the name calling, the argument goes like this (my paraphrasing): 60% of the world's population lives under "liberal" abortion law, and we do not see the Chinese phenomenon repeated elsewhere, except in India. In China (and India), women have little say in whether they have abortions. Therefore, it is not abortion policy which is the problem, only the culture.

First, this argument is lacking factual basis. As the author admits, "[w]e do not know what percentage of Chinese women freely choose sex-selective abortions, compared to those who are not given a choice by their husbands and culture to abort girls." In other words, I know which conclusion I want to reach, so I'll assume facts and engage in cultural stereotyping (including reference to the pre-revolutionary practice of foot binding) to justify the conclusion.

Next, the argument that 60% of the world's population lives under liberal abortion laws actually proves a point which contradicts the author. India and China combined account for roughly 37% of the world's population, which means that almost two-thirds of the 60% are accounted for by populations where sex-selective abortion is prevalent; when you add in other south and east-Asian nations where sex-selective abortion is prevalent, the percentage is higher. So, the facts actually show that in the vast majority of the world's population which lives under liberal abortion laws, sex-selective abortion is prevalent.

And we don't really know if the practice is limited to Asia; we only know that sex-selection is a problem in Asia because Asian cultures readily admit to male-preference. There is limited data on the United States, because as one author notes, Americans tend not to admit to sex-selection. What data is available suggests a continuance of male-favored sex selection in the U.S.-born children of Asian immigrants, which is inconsistent with the notion of sex selection being forced on women in countries such as China and India.

Nor can the author's other crutch, China's one-child policy, offer her much support. While the one-child policy contributes to the problem in China, in India and Korea there is no one-child policy, and sex-selection is a problem. In India, the practice of sex selection appears to be fueled by increases in the availability of ultra-sound and other technologies which make sex selection easier.

This statistical argument should not take away from the moral issue, which is sex-selective abortion, regardless of whether there is a gender-bias. Some pro-choice advocates have grappled with this ethical dilemma in a reasoned manner.

But of course, logic never was the point of the rant, so the author does not even touch on the dilemma facing pro-choice advocates in the face of the fact of sex-selective abortion. If abortion is a woman's right, then does anyone -- here or abroad -- have the right to impose sex-selection restrictions regardless of culture. And if not, how does society live with the problem of sex-selective abortion in general, and the specific consequence that a woman's right to choose results in fewer women.

I'm sure there will be more rational debate to follow.

UPDATE No. 2: I was right. Here is more rational debate:

Now, the individual who wrote this has a law degree. Not only does he have a law degree, but he teaches law at Cornell University. Cornell University! And yet he does not know that the aborting of female fetuses is the result of China’s one-child-per-couple policy combined with the extremely low status of females in China. When you are only allowed one child, and the societal value of a girl child is close to zero, then you are creating a powerful preference for that one child to be a boy — to the point where many are willing to abort female fetuses or kill newborn female infants. Under circumstances like these, there is little to no connection between legality and choice with regard to abortion in China. A coerced choice is no choice at all.

If a Cornell University law professor is so blinded by ideological fanaticism that he cannot grasp this, one cannot expect anything different from ideological fanatics who don’t have law degrees.

If the aborting of female fetuses in disproportionate numbers primarily is a reaction to China's one-child policy, then explain India, Korea, and other countries which do not have one-child policy. And if the other factor is societal disdain for the status of females, then explain the practice among the U.S.-born children of Asian immigrants who were born, raised, and at the time lived in the U.S. There may be cultural factors at work, but those cultures constitute a large percentage of the world's population.

And neither author/attacker has addressed the issue of whether sex-selected abortion should be permitted. If the answer is yes, then don't complain about China and India. And live with the natural consequences of your view. If the answer is no, then don't impose that solution solely on other cultures. I believe that's called cultural imperialism, and it is frowned upon by the left (and the Obama administration) in every other context.

I guess in the internet age, reliance on facts and the use of reason constitutes ideological fanaticism. At least when you disagree with prevailing liberal wisdom.

UPDATE No. 3: One of the commenters (who is also a blogger) to the preceding linked post states as follows:

When an educated right winger falsely asserts about China, a country that forces abortion after the first child, that China has “a virtually unfettered right to choose abortion[,]” that person is no longer engaging in an honest argument.

While courtesy might demand acceptance that the person making the false assertion actually believes the lie, that courtesy is often what the right winger is relying on to further their falsehoods.

Again , a little reasoned thought debunks the commenter's vitriol. While it is true that China's one child policy forces (under penalties) parents to abort the second child, the policy does not require that parents abort the first child. So while the one-child policy magnifies the problem of sex-selective abortion by forcing parents to exercise that selectivity the first time, there is no reason to think that sex-selective abortion is a function of the one-child policy. India, Korea and other Asian nations are the proof. And given the apparent preference for male offspring, one can only imagine the increased frequency of sex-selective abortion if the first born child were female.
Related Post: Passover Is No Time To Wish For The End Of Christian America

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook


  1. This post seems to be the output of some sort of cognitive-psychology test of language and logic operations: can you identify alternative hypotheses for a given phenomenon, and can you evaluate opposing outcomes in a situation with two factors. You seem to be failing the test.

    As you yourself point out, there is strong pro-mail bias in some cultures, and much less in the US. Your conclusion, then, is that women's advocates are "trying to have it two ways" by endorsing different policies in the the two situations. I rather suspect a more discerning, if not to say more intelligent, subject would have concluded that they are supporting the policy that best balances two competing goals - maximizing women's freedom and minimizing disparate impact - in each situation. Where sex-selective impact is essentially zero, a maximal-freedom policy is obviously best; where sex-selective impact is strong, minimal restrictions on freedom to reduce that impact are warranted. It's a "nuance" thing - but don't worry, many conservatives score down at your level on the scale.

    As for "moral consequences", I rather think it is the patriarchal men who created the genocidal anti-woman bias in many countries who are responsible for distorting women's freedom in a way that hurts both women (by extending patriarchy) and men (by creating a generation of males with no available women to marry). Blaming women for wanting their own freedom, because men would use it against them, is irrefutable evidence both of cognitive incapacity and plain and simple misogyny.

  2. I think you have proven an irrefutable point - which is that it is impossible to have a conversation on this topic because the feminist police will throw around words such as "misogyny" and falsely claim superior intellect based on "nuance."

    You have created a nuanced construct which is not nuanced at all; it is hypocritical and culturally imperialistic. If you believe women should have complete freedom over their bodies, then cultural differences should not matter. And you shouldn't want to go down that road, because there are difference in culture in different areas of this country, but presumably you want a single national standard. Why not a single world standard? Nuance means a shade of the same point, not a completely different standard applied at the cultural whim of one side of the argument.

  3. frankly, i don't see a problem with either China or India having this so called "problem"...... it will certainly be entertaining to watch the results.

    popcorn anyone?

  4. Prof. Jacobson:

    I didn't see the earlier posts, but the elephant in this debate is that China's government asserts the right to interfere in reproduction, which should be a family decision. If China's government didn't interfere in reproductive matters, there would be no pressure to abort children at all.

    Ironically, the only groups in the United States who actively assert a governmental right to interfere in family reproductive decisions are pro-life groups. Many of these same people also want the government to limit birth control. Many of them condemn teen mothers and want them cut off from welfare.

    This can only encourage abortion. Outlawing something that you've encouraged will only mean -- assuming such a law is actually enforced -- a vast expansion of government power. In Chinese villages, women's menstrual periods are posted in the community health centers so one one can cheat.

    To end abortion, religious groups must remove the stigma from pregnant teenagers (of which the Virgin Mary was one) and offer unconditional help after delivery. Religious groups should also acknowledge that birth control, like the rest of modern medicine, is a gift from God.

    In the meantime, if you want an idea of what America will become if abortion is outlawed without offering help to frightened teen mothers, just Google these words: teen mother kills baby.


  5. Finally, a thoughtful critique. I think the one child policy does play a role, but you can't blame it all on that. If boys are more revered in that society, then sex-selection will result in more boys; the one-child policy magnifies the problem, but is not the cause. Thanks for the comment.

  6. Here is a comment from a reader who had some trouble with the registration process: "This is an interesting subject and a complex one. Are these women choosing to abort girls -- or are the men in their lives making this choice? If the women are making the decision (and I believe this could be the case because women who bear sons have higher status), what does it say that it seems to be nearly impossible to eradicate the devaluing of women in a culture. Also, perhaps some women abort girls to spare them the life of women in their culture. I have no solutions, obviously."

  7. Look at advanced, liberal, democratic and post-industrial societies: they tend toward discrimination against males and favoritism toward females. The U.S. is a prime example. This is quite likely to be causing a slight preference now for female children. In most other cultures (less advanced, less democratic, more agrarian or industrial), the overwhelming preference is for male children irrespective of governmental interference in reproduction, one-child policies, etc.
    The logical conclusion of service-oriented, secular and advanced cultures like ours is the eventual stamping out of the male (physically, morally, pyschologically). The U.S. and other western cultures are in a proxysm of male-hatred. Misogyny is actually the norm in history with a preference for males as the providers, builders, laborers, inventers, moral and political leaders. It seems that the purpose of testosterone is to drive societies forward into modernity and then to post-modernity and their own annihilation - in the same way advanced societies become ever more secular, leisurely, divorced from the harsh realities of life and increasingly incapable of dealing with them. Put more simply, advanced societies value peace, service, the power of the state, and low reproduction, while elevating the status of women. Less developed societies value industry, labor, invention, war, high reproduction (health and survival issues are big contributors here) and a male-oriented culture.

    This view is a better predictor of the cultures that will abort its female fetuses rather than its male fetuses. The problem with favoring females is a culture's advance toward its own destruction.

    If this view makes me a misogynist, so be it. I spent way too many years as a feminist. I believe the drive to feminize Western societies is natural but also an extremely dangerous thing. Yet, what China is doing will likely lead to an unimagined cataclysm. Balance is crucial, yet balance is what is impossible to maintain with all the cultural and political meddlers every society is saddled with. All societies contain the seeds of their own destruction.

  8. Another comment from someone who didn't want to use the registration process (this is the last one of these I'll do, it's not hard to register):

    I won't comment on the furor over your post since I didn't see it until now, but I will say this in regard to your comments on South Korea, having lived there for four years: South Korea is excessively christian (roughly 50%, and most either catholic or fundamentalist baptist) yet the abortion rates are high and selective abortion is widespread. Abortion rates and attitudes towards females is atrocious in South Korea. (Publicly beating wives and girlfriends was still a common sight when I left.)

    It was only in 2005 that women - mothers - were granted legal status as head of the family if the husband died; before that, sons had full legal control of the family, even as a minor. And a study published in the Korea Times newspaper a few years ago (sorry, I can't locate the source to prove it) reported that selective abortion in South Korea wasn't excessive among first-born children, but among third-borns the rate was as high as to have a male-female birth rate of 200:100 in some cities.

    Opinions on abortion in differing countries is and always has been a matter of convenience, not a matter of "morality". In the Soviet Bloc era, all communist countries were pro-abortion except
    for Czechoslovakia, which outlawed abortion and condoms for the purpose of increasing the size of the population and workforce. (Czechoslovakia had the strongest economy of the Soviet Bloc.)

    The christians in western countries, and now uslim nations too, have and are anti-abortion because they want to outpopulate the competing religions, in by a war of attrition or by dictatorship through democracy (hence why religions seek to dictate what their particular group votes for). The excessively religious do not care one whit for children born except for its use in a religious context. If they were, why isn't there a mass-movement to adopt the unwanted pregnancies?

    As for China, I can foresee the communist government collapsing and a mass takeover of the nation by males, or worse, invasions of other countries by the PRC to "obtain" (read: kidnap) brides from nations with ethnic Chinese or other Asian people, such as Thais, Vietnamese, Lao, Taiwanese or perhaps even Korea or Japan.
    Don't think that's a stretch; the PRC has been doing that in Tibet for more than a decade, trying to effectively eliminate the Tibetan population by intermarrying. And some desperate North Korean women illegally marry Chinese men seeking a better life only to find they are beaten and treated horribly; no doubt that
    will happen more and more - many Vietnamese and Filipinas who married South Korean men to find the same abuse (again, I can't find the source to back up the claim).

  9. Another unintended consequence follows from the law of supply and demand: that which is scarce becomes valuable. So women will become more 'valuable' in male-heavy societies. Whether that results in turning them into protected property à la Arabia, or dominant power brokers, will be an interesting issue to watch unfolding.