I recently finished reading a book that rocked my world. The author, Mara Hvistendahl, is a Beijing-based correspondent for Science and a supporter of a woman's "right" to abortion. In her book, Unnatural Selection, she chronicles the epidemic of sex-selective abortion that has already swept certain Asian countries and India and is spreading. She explores the practice's origins and effects, including the perspectives of demographers, parents, economists and others. I wanted to share some of the factual high points, which are well-documented and discussed in fascinating detail in the book (and I encourage you to read it!).
Speaking from a technological/medical perspective, it was the combined availability of ultrasound and abortion that led to the annihilation of 160 million baby girls in the womb. But before you shake your head in dismay at the idea that "other" societies could adopt "one-child" policies or embrace abortion as a routine part of family life, consider this: it was all part of a plan hatched in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Fueled by concerns that unbounded population growth would strain world resources and exacerbate poverty in developing nations, American "population activists" collaborated to combat this perceived problem. John D. Rockefeller III put together a "Conference on Population Problems" in Williamsburg, then went on to work with the Ford Foundation, the World Bank, the United Nations Population Fund, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the International Planned Parenthood Federation to "sell Asian nations on population control, primarily by spreading the logic that lower birth rates lead to richer people."
Of course, some "population activists" had more sinister motivations. Hvistendahl posits that, privately, "Western donors worried less about poverty than they did about the global balance of power and specifically about what they believed to be one of poverty's effects: communism." Many American elites worried that rising birth rates in developing nations would make these regions more susceptible to communism and less likely to become American allies.
As these wealthy, Western organizations succeeded in selling developing nations on their "less is better" pitch, baby girls were the casualties. Hvistendahl reports that parents in nearly all cultures prefer sons to daughters.
The impact of widespread sex selection is profoundly visible today, and Hvistendahl describes it well. She visited Asian schools and playgrounds where the ratio of boys to girls is 2:1 or even 3:1. Is it any wonder that demographers are concerned about the global impact of such imbalance? That parents--even those who aborted baby girls so that their own one child would be a son--now worry that their precious son will not be able to find a wife?
But the problem doesn't end with parental worries. Other unintended consequences of this deep gender imbalance include the rising trend of "bride buying," and, worse, the perfect fuel for human trafficking and other sex industries.
Maybe playing "God" isn't such a good idea after all.