Selecting the Same Sex

Merle Hoffman

While sex selective abortion allows women to make what is, in a sense, the ultimate in supposedly informed consumerism, it also can work to create a world where being female is viewed as the primary and most terminal of birth defects.

This article was first published by On the Issues.

There is one place where the definition of
gender remains binary – in the womb. When it comes to sonograms,
amniocentesis and standard pre-natal testing, there are no nuances.
Here, the pronouncement, “It’s a girl,” can translate into fierce and
instant parental rejection. The fact is that when the issue is “sex
selection abortion,” the same sex is always being selected — female.

Abortion has been regularly used as a method of sex selection in certain regions of the world, particularly China and India, where sons are more highly prized than daughters. But it was something of a surprise to doctors in Sweden.
When the mother of two daughters arrived at Mälaren Hospital, seeking
tests to determine the sex of her fetus. If female, she declared, she
intended to abort.

The doctors were concerned enough to
bring the issue to the National Board of Health and Welfare, inquiring
how to handle requests where they felt "pressured to examine the
fetus’s gender" without a clinical diagnosis. The Board came back and
said that requests for abortions based on a child’s gender cannot be refused.

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Here in the U.S. a recent New York Times article
reported slight statistical variations among Americans of Chinese,
Korean or Indian descent, suggesting that the cultural preference for
boys in these societies is continuing in this country.

The story reported on research conducted by Douglas Almond and Lena Edlund
and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers’ say their analysis of the 2000 Census shows that the
odds increase beyond what is standard for a third child to be a boy in
Asian-American families from China, Korea and India if the family did
not already have a son. The data "suggest that in a sub-population with
a traditional son preference, the technologies are being used to
generate male births when preceding births are female," they wrote in
the paper.

Even though sex selection is illegal in India, and China has been struggling with this issue for years, Edlund, a professor in the Department of Economics at Columbia University, told the Times, "That this is going on in the United States — people were blown away by this."

Blown away indeed. Most people find the idea of sex selection abortion unacceptable, and a Zogby Interactive poll taken in March 2006 found that 86 percent of Americans supported a prohibition on the practice. Sex-selection abortion has been banned
in Illinois, Pennsylvanian and most recently in Oklahoma.
Representative Trent Franks– a pro-life member of Congress from
Arizona — introduced the Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2009, a bill that would ban sex-selection or race-based abortions.

In an op-ed in The Washington Times, Trent wrote,"Regardless
of one’s position on abortion, this form of discrimination should
horrify every American. The idea of killing a baby simply because she
is a girl is reprehensible."

Posing the Right Question 

sex selection abortion allows women to make what is, in a sense, the
ultimate in supposedly informed consumerism, it also can work to create
a world where being female is viewed as the primary and most terminal
of birth defects.

News reports describe a new test
being marketed that can determine the sex of a fetus after only 10
weeks, rather than the 20 weeks of the traditional sonogram. In light
of these developments, Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby
asked, "What kind of feminist would it be who could contemplate the use
of abortion to eliminate ever-greater numbers of girls, and not cry out
in horror?"

Good question. And one that I personally asked myself in 1991 when I counseled a Hindu woman
who was 18 weeks pregnant, married with two sons and wanted the
abortion because the sonogram showed the fetus she was carrying was

This is the place where my feminism and pro-choice
philosophies collided violently. I sat across from her and thought of
her fetus and the “primal birth defect” it carried and felt rage and
despair, as if it were me she would be negating.

I so much
wanted to say: ”No. STOP! You should not.” Not “You cannot,” but “You
should not.” Yes, this feminist makes judgments — value judgments —
and, sometimes, I disagree profoundly with some women’s choices.

I would not personally make a decision to abort on that basis — or for
some of the other reasons that women present themselves for abortions.

But I have spent the better part of my life defending the principle of
reproductive freedom and have provided the service to thousands of
women for over 38 years because, ultimately, women do and should have
the right to make what may be to others the wrong choice.

It’s about separating the chooser from the choice.

The Random House Webster College Dictionary defines choice as the right, power or opportunity to choose.

When an individual makes a choice, it is the act of “the making,” the
active will and power of choosing itself that has unconditional value,
not the result of the choosing. The only absolute in this equation is
the one who chooses, that is, it is the individual woman who is the
active moral agent in the decision-making process and not the state,
the court or any political body.

The choice can be morally
good, or not. This, of course, brings into view the nature of morality.
If an individual has an absolutist value that all abortions, for
whatever reason, are evil, then there is no further discussion. The
raped nine-year-old, the incested 10-year-old, whomever-under-whatever
circumstances: all are committing an evil act. There can be no
possibility of choice because a woman choosing an abortion is a generic
evil which should preclude the choice itself.

Interestingly enough, with Roe v. Wade in the background giving women the opportunity not
to be pregnant, the act of continuing a pregnancy is more of a “choice”
than it ever was historically. Each time a woman actively continues
with her pregnancy, the ”wantedness” of every child increases.

Some believe that the choice of abortion is wrong in all places for all
time. But attitudes about abortion are situational, historic and

My work to open Choices East, a satellite of Choices Women’s Medical Center in New York,
in the former Soviet Union was inspired by a 35-year-old woman who came
to our medical center for her 36th abortion. Like so many other Russian
émigré women living in New York, she was violently opposed to using
birth control because her Russian doctor taught her that "the Pill" was
far more dangerous than repeat abortions. This misinformation benefited
Russian physicians because they could earn extra money doing abortions
on women in their homes to supplement their three dollars a month
salary. Other forms of contraception were unavailable for all practical
purposes. For these women, the "issue" of abortion posed no questions
of morality, ethics, or women’s rights versus fetal life. There was
only the harsh reality that sex rarely came without anxiety and that the price one often paid for it was high and dangerous.

Are these women who have no other choice continually making the wrong one?

Are the women of China and India who are so much a product of their
paternalistic and misogynistic cultures making the wrong choice when
they want a child who will not join their husband’s families after
marriage or when they want sons to take care of parents as they age, as
are the practices in their societies?

Are they making a wrong choice if the results of their choice
determine their ability and their family’s ability to survive? When and
where is a choice right or wrong? And, according to whose dictates?

If we, in fact, say “trust women,” then we are assuming that we should
also trust them when we feel that the choice they are making is wrong
for us personally, or wrong in our view of general ethical principles.

The issue of sex selection abortion is difficult because it is a place
where the rights and values of the chooser clash violently with the
nature of the choice.

Morality and Human Rights 

Long time colleague Frances Kissling, writing in Salon
describes a hypothetical scenario that she was presented with at a
Planned Parenthood conference 15 years ago. Asked whether or not, if
she were a doctor, she would provide a sex selection abortion, she
said. "I wouldn’t do it," but thought a policy should be implemented
that was "open to referring women to providers who do."

goes on to say, “Just because something is legal — and should be legal
— does not mean it is always ethical….If pro-choice advocates follow
the example of those opposed to abortion and present only one value —
a women’s right to make this decision — as the only ethical
consideration worth discussing in difficult cases, do we not become as
extremist as we say they are?”

Kissling compresses all the myriad pro-choice thinking into one
collective body with the same interests that arbitrate morality. By
implying that defending a woman’s fundamental right to choose is a
potentially extremist position, and calling choice "single value
ethics," as she does in the article, Kissling both diminishes and
disregards individual women’s ethical decisions and presents values in
the collective absolute. There is no conceptual or philosophical
equality here To accept the language of the opposition is to cede our moral compass.

Unlike Kissling who believes that "there is a point where our
respect for potential life, for that individual fetus, should outweigh
a woman’s desire, even need, not to be pregnant," Marianne Mollmann of Human Rights Watch
offers a different perspective: "The solution to the prevalence of
sex-selective abortion is to remove the motivation (emotional or real)
behind the procedure by advancing women’s human rights and their
economic and social equality," she wrote in a June commentary.

Yes, the solution to the dilemma of the chooser and the choice is to
create a world where women truly have both equal and human rights. The
solution is to focus on changing the need for the choice of abortion,
not to criminalize the chooser.

Every day at Choices, women
go into the counseling sessions and answer the question, “Why are you
having this abortion?” Not infrequently, they answer with a statement
like “Oh I’m not at all like all the others in the waiting room, I
really wanted to keep this pregnancy, but…”

It’s in the but that the reality of abortion lies.

Practitioners who counsel women seeking abortions do an exercise called
"the last abortion." The participants choose one woman among six who
will be allowed to receive the last abortion on earth. It is an
exercise in individual ethics and forces one to confront her own
prejudices. There is an orphaned teenager, a victim of rape, a woman
carrying a medically deformed fetus, a 46-year-old woman with HIV, a
12-year-old, and a graduate student who wants to finish her Ph.D. They
all have good reasons, because all the reasons are theirs. And in the
end, that is the answer: All the reasons are theirs.

If you were the chooser — what would be your choice?


News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open The Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

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Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.

News Law and Policy

Three Crisis Pregnancy Centers Served for Breaking California Law

Nicole Knight Shine

The notices of violation issued this month mark the first time authorities anywhere in the state are enforcing the seven-month-old Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act.

The Los Angeles City Attorney is warning three area fake clinics, commonly known as crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), that they’re breaking a new state reproductive disclosure law and could face fines of $500 if they don’t comply.

The notices of violation issued this month mark the first time authorities anywhere in the state are enforcing the seven-month-old Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act, advocates and the state Attorney General’s office indicate.

The office of City Attorney Mike Feuer served the notices on July 15 and July 18 to two unlicensed and one licensed clinic, a representative from the office told Rewire. The Los Angeles area facilities are Harbor Pregnancy Help Center, Los Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

The law requires the state’s licensed pregnancy-related centers to display a brief statement with a number to call for access to free and low-cost birth control and abortion care, and for unlicensed centers to disclose that they are not medical facilities.

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“Our investigation revealed,” one of the letters from the city attorney warns, “that your facility failed to post the required onsite notice anywhere at your facility and that your facility failed to distribute the required notice either through a printed document or digitally.”

The centers have 30 days from the date of the letter to comply or face a $500 fine for an initial offense and $1,000 for subsequent violations.

“I think this is the first instance of a city attorney or any other authority enforcing the FACT Act, and we really admire City Attorney Mike Feuer for taking the lead,” Amy Everitt, state director of NARAL Pro-Choice California, told Rewire on Wednesday.

Feuer in May unveiled a campaign to crack down on violators, announcing that his office was “not going to wait” amid reports that some jurisdictions had chosen not to enforce the law while five separate court challenges brought by multiple fake clinics are pending.

Federal and state courts have denied requests to temporarily block the law, although appeals are pending before U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

In April, Rebecca Plevin of the local NPR affiliate KPCC found that six of eight area fake clinics were defying the FACT Act.

Although firm numbers are hard to come by, around 25 fake clinics, or CPCs, operate in Los Angeles County, according to estimates from a representative of NARAL Pro-Choice California. There are upwards of 1,200 CPCs across the country, according to their own accounting.

Last week, Rewire paid visits to the three violators: Harbor Pregnancy Help Center, Los Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

Christie Kwan, a nurse manager at Pregnancy Counseling Center, declined to discuss the clinic’s noncompliance, but described their opposition to the state law as a “First Amendment concern.”

All three centers referred questions to their legal counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an Arizona-based nonprofit and frequent defender of discriminatory “religious liberty” laws.

Matt Bowman, senior counsel with ADF, said in an email to Rewire that forcing faith-based clinics to “communicate messages or promote ideas they disagree with, especially on life-and-death issues like abortion,” violates their “core beliefs” and threatens their free speech rights.

“The First Amendment protects all Americans, including pro-life people, from being targeted by a government conspiring with pro-abortion activists,” Bowman said.

Rewire found that some clinics are following the law. Claris Health, which was contacted as part of Feuer’s enforcement campaign in May, includes the public notice with patient intake forms, where it’s translated into more than a dozen languages, CEO Talitha Phillips said in an email to Rewire.

Open Arms Pregnancy Center in the San Fernando Valley has posted the public notice in the waiting room.

“To us, it’s a non-issue,” Debi Harvey, the center’s executive director, told Rewire. “We don’t provide abortion, we’re an abortion-alternative organization, we’re very clear on that. But we educate on all options.”

Even so, reports of deceit by 91 percent of fake clinics surveyed by NARAL Pro-Choice California helped spur the passage of the FACT Act last October. Until recently, a person who Googled “abortion clinic” might be directed to a fake clinic, or CPC.

Oakland last week became the second U.S. city to ban false advertising by facilities that city leaders described as “fronts for anti-abortion activists.” San Francisco passed a similar ordinance in 2011.