Friday, April 18, 2014

Sex Selection Abortion and US Lawmaking

Sital Kalantry writes about U.S. jurisdictions promoting bans on sex selection abortion and developing a global feminist view. 


South Dakota Recently Passed a Law Banning Sex Selection Abortion

 by Sital Kalantry

Many people are aware that in some countries sex selection by many individuals in favor of boys has been so dramatic that it has changed national sex ratios.  Without any intervention, for every 105 boys born there should be 100 girls born.  But in India, as of the 2011 census, the child sex ratio (ages 0 to 6) fell to an all-time low of 100 boys to 91 girls.  Sex ratios have been male-skewed over the course of many decades such that today there is an oversupply of men who desire to be married to women but cannot find partners.  As India’s national elections are occurring now, some men are demanding brides in return for votes.


Even if sex selection has lead to a large-scale public crises in some parts of India, why have eights states is the United States passed laws prohibiting sex selection abortion? Stace Nelon, a Republican state representative running for US Senate from South Dakota, which passed a ban last month says: “I spent 18 years in Asia . . .And sadly, I can tell you that the rest of the world does not value the lives of women as much as I value the lives of my daughters.”  Don Haggar, a Republican state representative, stated added "[t]here are cultures that look at a sex-selection abortion as being culturally okay.  And I think that's a good thing that we invite them to come, but I think it's also important that we send a message that this is a state that values life, regardless of its sex.”


According to the New York Times, parties have seized up abortion as an issue in the mid-term elections in the United States with sex selection being on the priority list.  In an interesting twist, here is a campaign ad brought by a Republican candidate in Michigan against the Republican incumbent for his failure to support a ban on sex selection abortion.


A student in my International Human Rights Clinic, Fredrick William Watson, analyzed voting records across the six state legislatures that have passed laws banning sex selection abortions in the last four years (the other two states that have banned them – IL and PA—adopted these bans in 1984 and 1989 respectively). On average, 92% of the Republican elected representatives voted in favor of these bans across each state legislature that passed that sex selection prohibitions. On the other hand, 30% of Democrats voted in those state legislatures and 60% voted against them.   


Is son-preference based sex selection abortion prevalent in the United States?  Have bans on sex selection abortion changed sex ratios in states that adopted them in the 1980's?  What harms might sex selection bans cause (intended or unintended) in the U.S.?  If we are trying to prevent people from acting on their son-preference, then why do these laws not ban sex selection that can be done prior to implantation of the embryo?  Does the sex selection abortion prohibition stop a human rights violation or is it itself a human rights violation? Stay tuned for this and more information to be released in a report by the University of Chicago International Human Rights Clinic, in collaboration with economists and partner organizations which will demonstrate that these laws are based in  limited information and anti-immigrant views and do more harm than solve a purported problem that exists in the United States.  Separately, I conducted an analysis of legislative history of other sex selection laws in the United States in an article that was recently published and begin to develop a global feminist approach to understanding sex selection abortion.

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