When I was visiting China about five years ago and people-watching on the main drags of Beijing and Shanghai, two things stood out. One, I had grown up imagining the Chinese people as shorter than those in the western world; but here were young men much taller than I (I’m 6’3”), looming over me on the subways. Two, I had read about the one-child law. So in public places I looked for families with more than one child. There were a few, but only a few. In an English language Chinese paper I read that an aimless population of young males was coming of age, faced with the reality that there were not enough women to give each one of them an opportunity to marry and raise families of their own. What do you do with aimless, single males? Swell the ranks of the army. And then what to you do with all the soldiers with nothing to do? The answers to that are frightening.
Now, prompted by new data from India in The Guardian Weekly and a review of a new book by Mara Hvistendahl, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men (Public Affairs), in the Wall Street Journal, moralists—and the rest of us—are challenged to answer, what reasons can justify taking the life of an unborn person in the womb?
Whether we refer to the unborn as an “it,” or a person, or a fetus, or a child, it is far enough along in its development for us to know its sexual identity, and that, if it is allowed, he or she will come into the world as a boy or a girl. At this stage, according to the articles, the mother or the in-laws discuss it and decide whether she—it’s an issue only if she is female—lives or dies.
Culturally, whether in India or China or anywhere else, boys are worth economically than girls. Since the late 1870s, 163 million female babies have been aborted by families seeking sons.
If nature is allowed to take its course, 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. Any violation of that ratio is due to human intervention into the natural process. According to the WSJ, today India has 112 boys for every 100 girls. China has 121. In Armenia it’s 120. Couples are having abortions when, through ultrasound or other medical means, they see the child is a female.
The book's author, Ms. Hvistendahl, warns that this is a very bad sign, a warning for the future. Societies where men substantially outnumber women are very unstable, violent. Men with no hope of marrying accumulate in the lower classes and make trouble. Crime waves follow. Wealthy men in prosperous countries will poach women from poorer ones. A small but significant percentage of women will be stolen and forced into prostitution or marriage.
The author of the book oddly concludes that this pattern should not be used as an argument against abortion. The reviewer, Jonathan Last, and I see this situation as a strong refutation of the absolutist-feminist argument for abortion: the only fact worth considering is the “mother’s choice.” With absolute authority over her own body, their logic goes, she alone has the right to decide the future of what is obviously a living human being inside her, totally dependent on her for life present and future.
The reasons for killing the female are usually economic. The daughter brings the expense of a dowry if she is to marry. The son will be a wage earner, carry on the family name, and support the parents in their old age.
If the abortion decision is based purely on the woman’s “right to choose”—no matter what the reasons for her choice—she and/or her family are free to kill the child merely for being a girl. How can anyone, particularly a feminist, allow that? If that is clear, then the law should intervene to protect the child. And if it can protect the child because she is female, it can protect him or her because he/she is a human being.
Raymond A. Schroth