Heritage Foundation Exploits Tragic "Gendercide" To Push Anti-Choice Message

January 24, 2012 2:30 pm ET — Walid Zafar

A documentary set to be released later this year examines "gendercide," the centuries-old practice, prevalent in places like China and India, of killing, aborting, or neglecting baby girls. "Girls who survive infancy," the producers of the film explain, "are often subject to neglect, and many grow up to face extreme violence and even death at the hands of their own husbands or other family members." As The Economist explains, "the cumulative consequence for societies" where sex-selective abortions, infanticide and abuse are common "is catastrophic." Fortunately, more people are finding out about the statistics of gendercide and about the dangerous policies that encourage it, such as China's notorious one child policy.

But anti-choice groups in the United States are exploiting gendercide in their own efforts to ban abortion altogether, in part by trying to portray pro-choice voices as complicit in the practice. Take, for example, this commentary from the Heritage Foundation's Ericka Andersen. She writes

With the anniversary of Roe v. Wade this week — and as pro-life demonstrators assemble across the nation in defense of life — feminists should take note: Although women may have gained equality in many areas over the past decades, they haven't gained it in the womb. [...]

[T]he truth is, there are 160 million women missing from the world today, most notably in Asia. In what some call "gendercide," the practice of sex-selective abortion is decimating the female population in some countries. Sometimes, pregnant women are forced into the procedure against their will.

The same American feminists that expound upon women's rights in other areas seemingly refuse to join calls to outlaw sex-selective abortion.

Andersen is puzzled that American feminists aren't vocal supporters of efforts to outlaw the practice, but what she doesn't explain is that the forces behind the effort to outlaw sex-selective abortion in the United States are politicians and advocacy groups that have a total ban on abortion as their ultimate objective.

For instance, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), a far-right anti-choice lawmaker who has said in the past that African Americans were better off under slavery because there were fewer abortions, is leading the fight in Congress to combat sex-selective abortions. A bill he's sponsored, the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act, would impose criminal penalties against providers who perform an abortion that's being done because of the gender or race of the fetus.

Andersen is way off base with her attacks on feminists. Pro-choice groups do care about sex-selective abortions, but Franks' effort is a solution looking for a problem. "Sadly, there are woman around the world and here at home who face pressure from family members or their community to have a child of a particular sex" the president of NARAL, one of the largest pro-choice groups in the country, said in testimony before Congress. She continued:

But while sex-selective abortion may be an issue in various parts of the world, there are no data that demonstrate it is a prevalent practice in the U.S.  What is clear, however, is that the root causes of sexism and gender bias that drive son preference will not be addressed by limiting a woman's access to reproductive-health care. ... In fact, a 2011 report from the World Health Organization and other international-health groups on efforts to combat gender-biased sex selection indicates that restricting access to abortion services without addressing social norms and cultural factors is likely to result in a greater demand for unsafe, clandestine procedures that place women's health and lives at risk.

In a separate press release, the group pointed out a stark irony in the campaign. "Rep. Franks currently has a five-percent rating from the NAACP on civil rights; has voted against the equal-pay bill; voted not to extend the State Children's Health Insurance Program; and backed efforts to cut funding for prenatal care and contraception."

Miriam Yeung of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum also testified that "proponents [of the legislation] co-opt the language of equality and human rights to be purposely misleading in an effort to pass an anti-choice measure without a fight." The real goal of such efforts, she explained, "is to take away the rights of women and communities of color, not to help us."