Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Review: Unnatural Selection

Unnatural Selection: choosing boys over girls, and the consequences of a world full of men
by Mara Hvistendahl
PublicAffairs, New York, 2011
314 pages, $26.99 list; $17.81 street

Mara Hvistendahl has written an important book that highlights the practical consequences and immorality of aborting babies on the basis of their sex, especially aborting girl babies. In the process she unwillingly makes a case for the immorality of aborting babies at all.

Hvistendahl chapter by chapter traces the effect of policies and views that have led to a growing serious imbalance, especially in Asia, of boys over girls. This is due to parents choosing to abort baby girls in order to have at least one son. [In India, for example, there are 112 boys born for every 100 girls and in China 121 boys for every 100 girls. (p. 5) That means that over 10% of Indian men and 20% of Chinese men in the future won’t find a mate.] Consequently, world-wide there are about 160 million women “missing”. Compare that with the concern over the number of deaths due to AIDS–25 million worldwide. AIDS gets 1/4th of global spending on health. (p. 9, 16) That’s the first shoe.

The second shoe is that in much of the world, abortion has succeeded as a brake on population growth beyond the wildest dreams of its promoters. South Korea, for example, has an average birth rate of 1.22 children per woman. (p. 235) Since replacing current population requires something like 2.1 children per woman, South Korea’s population is in a nose dive that portends fewer workers and a contracting economy and inability of the society to economically (and perhaps physically) take care of a rapidly aging population. This is a worldwide problem with most developed nations that promoted population control now facing a population implosion.

In describing causes of these two disasters, Hvistendahl presents important players who brought on a population catastrophe of too few women and too few young people to sustain healthy societies.

Some key organizations:
“On the heels of the meeting [John D.] Rockefeller [III] founded the Population Council. [Hugh] Moore went on to found the Population Crisis Committee. These two organizations, together with the Ford Foundation, the World Bank, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), helped sell Asian nations on population control, primarily spreading the logic that lower birth rates lead to richer people.” (p. 33)
Modeling the worst kind of colonialism, these UN, Western governmental and private organizations purposefully forced Western thinking and values on weaker peoples against the cultural and religious values of those people. (p. 127-129)

Abortion turned out to be an effective means of promoting population control. And sex selective abortion was accepted as an easy way to introduce abortion into societies that valued boys but had traditionally been opposed to abortion. Hvistendahl points out that among first children, girls and boys are born in nearly equal numbers. But, when it comes to the second and especially the third child girls get aborted in order to make room for the desired son.

The worldwide result of this imbalance, beyond the 160 million female babies now "missing", is sex trafficking in women and girls, bought or kidnapped brides, child brides, and a society more prone to violence because single men are more likely to engage in violent and criminal activity than married men or women.

Other well known key players promoting population control and abortion around the world were political figures like Robert McNamara involved in forced sterilization of millions of men in India (p. 89), George H. W. Bush and Henry Kissinger (p. 127). (Hvistendahl doesn't mention leading Democrats from the Clinton administration, but surely there were.)

Especially influential in helping sex selective abortion were big business corporations like General Electric which garnered attractive profits in marketing ultrasound machines in Asian markets in the 1990's. Ultrasound technology was an easy way to discover the sex of the baby in the womb. Then when GE needed a boost in sales it developed and marketed compact ultrasound machines.
“In 2007, after GE’s market share in China dropped, the multinational introduced a low-end, compact machine that could be hooked up to a PC–-at one-sixth the cost of a conventional device. The compact machine, [Jeffrey R.] Immelt writes, was ‘a hit in rural clinics . . . Today the portable machine is the growth engine of GE’s ultrasound business in China.’” (p. 50)
So, high powered non-profits and social help agencies, United Nations’ and Western governmental agencies, high-powered Western political figures and big business all had a role in aiding and promoting sex selective abortions around the world. Some were inspired by misguided idealism and false fears of the results of growing populations and some were in it for the money. It’s a tawdry tale that Hvistendahl uncovers.

Hvistendahl is a good writer. She packs facts and information into a prose style that flows and carries the reader along. And she uses lots of personal story examples.

But, all the good writing and research, cannot deflect from her major problem. Hvistendahl believes that women have the right to choose whether their babies in the womb live or die. She believes the pro-life movement is wrong and blasts individuals and groups who, in working against sex selective abortion, believe it is wrong because fetuses are human beings with rights. (pp. 239-244)

Why is it okay to abort children because you don’t want that child, but wrong if you abort on the basis of sex? Hvistendahl has a hard time with this. She comes up with two main tries at argument.

1. If a woman doesn’t want to be a parent of a child at a given time time for whatever reason, it’s perfectly all right to abort for no other reason than whim. No questions beyond personal desire are to be asked.

However, if a woman wants to be a parent, then the woman's desires are only valid if they fall within what the left and progressives think are good reasons (congenital disease or some "imperfection" in the baby). Wanting a girl or a boy is not sufficient even though strong personal desire or cultural need may come in to play.

Hvistendahl quotes Mark Hughes "who unveiled embryo screening to help couples avoid passing on devastating diseases" as saying:
"'I went into medicine and into science to diagnose and treat and hopefully cure diseases. . . . Your gender is not a disease, last time I checked.'" (p. 253)
Yet Hvistendahl, in upholding the right to non-sex selective abortion, seems to forget that being a fetus is not a disease either. Not to mention that killing the patient should not be the preferred method of treating and curing diseases. (I'm reminded of a Law and Order episode where SVU Detective Benson yells the supreme damning indictment in the face of a doctor who supposedly was silent about the goings on at Abu Ghraib prison, “Do no harm!” However, no character on the show would ever yell that at a doctor who performed abortions.)

2. Hvistendahl’s second argument is that a child has the right to his or her own independent personhood.
“Bioethicists have mostly abandoned choice and privacy as starting points for thinking about reproduction. These days they talk about a framework that balances the rights of women with the rights of her potential children. Central to the new approach is the premise that every individual has the right to an ‘open future–instead of having expectation foisted on him or her even before birth. Preimplantation sex selection, some theorists now conclude, prioritizes the needs of one generation over another, making having children more about bringing parents satisfaction than about responsibly creating an independent human being.” (p. 200)
A fetus has the right to future independent personhood but not to life. A woman can decide to abort a child if it doesn't bring personal satisfaction, but not to specify characteristics that would bring personal satisfaction. Go figure.

So, what can be done to stop sex selective abortion or, more recently, sex selective in vitro fertilization?

Hvistendahl points to two current strategies.

One is a public information campaign to highlight the value of girls (or boys–U.S. mothers are partial to girls) when women are choosing to have babies of the other sex. Though it has worked somewhat in China and India, Hvistendahl notes it is not a campaign that will work in the U. S. (p. 226-229, 256, 258)

Second, make sex selective abortion criminal activity for the doctor and health professionals involved in it (5 year prison sentence) and any helpers who know what is going on (1 year prison sentence). (p. 244) Wow! Remember when an argument for legalizing abortion was that if you kept it criminalized women would just continue to get dangerous back alley abortions? And now here are pro-choice people suggesting that criminalizing sex selective abortion is the way to go. Who cares about back alley abortions any more.

The desire to limit population by persuasion or force has created a monster. As with declaring blacks sub-human in order to justify enslaving them, babies had to be declared sub-human in order to justify killing them. And mothers had to be given the god-like right of determining life or death in deciding how many and what kind of children they give birth to. Hvistendahl states the central problem succinctly. “In China and California alike, mothers have become their own eugenicists.” (p. 258)

How do you unwind that clock? It will be hard unless mothers again come to feel that the child within in them has a God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Continued talk by leftists and progressives about the right to abort for any reason, other than sex (or other personal attribute) selection, just pounds in belief on the right to abort for any reason, including sex (or other personal attribute) selection. (p. 244)

This is an important book because it puts on the table for discussion the moral and societal crisis caused by the West’s massive promotion of population control and abortion. Kudos to Mara Hvistendahl for an in-depth, well sourced look at the severity of the problem.

H/T Ross Douthat


James Nicholas said...

"Yet Hvistendahl, in upholding the right to non-sex selective abortion, seems to forget that being a fetus is not a disease either."

Well said.

It's a mind bender how one can push for criminalizing sex selective abortion, and not understand that what is abhorrent for the reason of sex preferences is still abhorrent if the question is eye color, or just whimsey of the mother, for that matter.

Nice piece, Terrance. I have a friend who is very keen on these arguments. Her engine sometimes runs a little hot, but I'll still see if I can get her to stop by.

T. D. said...

Thanks for the support, JN!

Ten Mile Island said...

Don't know if you know, but my sister picked up the Cross and found herself in China, rescuing little girls from dumpsters.

The reasons for her leaving the mission has nothing, in my opinion, with her heart. She is still the only Christian I know, even though she now is working for an Indian company in Dhubai. During her years rescuing babies, her homecoming visits were both a rejoiceful occasions, and dreadful occasions. No, I do not want to look at the pictures you've taken.

You may recall that I am not an advocate for the criminalisation of abortion. Who was it said, "safe, legal and rare?" With three sisters, and coming from a family with sisters and aunts coming from all angles, the idea that a desperate woman finding herself in a back-alley was a terrible thought. Do I, do you, view rape or incest as a just starting point for conception? Or, would the suicide of a young woman be preferable? Either intentionally, or with the assistance of a back-room abortionist?

This is a simple recap of my beliefs, and not a challenge to your beliefs. I have thought through many arguments that are capable disagreements. And I'm sure, valid disagreements. That there is invalidation to my position is simply a result of my own human imperfection.

My simple thought is, we cannot know where or when the next great philosopher, mathematician, logician or discoverer of disease will be born. Or what rude beginnings he endured. It is not our role to kill the unborn.

The decision is between the mother and father, the family and the clergy and physician. I would elect life. My sister elected to save, at risk of her own life. She is more brave than I am. At least, more committed to the perfect logic that I'm unable to attend.

See what happens when you start writing about your beliefs? You start questioning them. Perhaps I should address this again.

T. D. said...

Thanks for your thoughtful post, TMI.

Hard cases make bad law.

I think most people would say, just as in killing in self-defense, rape, incest and the life of the mother are discussable exceptions. However, that's a long way from where we are now when abortion for any reason, even personal whim, is legal.

I noted Hvistendahl's call for criminalization of sex selecting abortions because it runs so counter to all her other (and the pro-choice lobby's) legalized abortion arguments/assumptions.

If our society spent as much time, effort and money to support mothers in difficult or unexpected pregnancies as we do in aborting children (especially in the black community), the number of desired abortions would decline. The work of pro-life clinics and ramped up adoptions has already made a dent.

However, one of the points Hvistendahl makes that I only commented on indirectly is that the population control movement has made almost all babies undesirable. That's why most "developed" countries are having negative population growth.

Hvistendahl points out that in South Korea sex selective abortions are no longer a big problem because mothers only want to have one child, and they don't care if it's a boy or girl. All other children are "unwanted" just for being number two.

When children are seen primarily as vehicles for parental or societal happiness and not as full persons with God-given rights, the slippery slope becomes a greased slide.

This isn't meant as an argument against what you wrote. Just an expansion of what I was trying to point out in the second to last paragraph of my post.