Sex-Selective abortion in New York: an open secret

By Dave Andrusko

Chinese language newspapers sold in New York City carry a prolific selection of abortion ads, some of them also offering early gender tests. Photo: Rui Miao

Chinese language newspapers sold in New York City carry a prolific selection of abortion ads, some of them also offering early gender tests. Photo: Rui Miao

The headline in the New York Press is “Sex-Selective Abortion in New York.” Written by Rui Miao and Virginia Gunawan, the story alternates between minimizing the occurrence and more candid comments that the “old countries’” values endure.

A subhead captures the it’s-there-but-getting-better theme: “While the practice appears to be diminishing, it remains an open secret within some communities.”

Here’s what we know from this highly informative story. For starters

Pregnant women, most of them Chinese and Indian, often go to abortion clinics for early stage fetal gender tests. If the fetus is found to be female, another procedure — abortion — sometimes also takes place, according to interviews with dozens of physicians, community leaders and Asian immigrants in Manhattan’s Chinatown, Queens’ Flushing and Jackson Heights and Brooklyn’s Sunset Park.

Like many of her friends, Zhou tested her baby’s sex each time she conceived. Unlike others she knows, she said, Zhou never had an abortion. She now has three girls and a 1-year-old son, her youngest child.

What else tells us how pervasive sex-selection abortion is in these communities? That while an unscientific survey of younger women in these communities finds they believe there is less preference for males in Chinese immigrant culture

many said older relatives and close friends continue to favor boys over girls, and sex-selective abortion remains an open secret within the city’s Chinese immigrant communities.

Of course it is extremely difficult to pin down a figure, which is why anecdotal evidence can be suggestive. Miao and Gunawan observe

The number of sex-selective abortions performed in this country is difficult to determine. The reasons women have abortions are not officially tabulated. Major abortion clinics, such as Planned Parenthood, do not ask for reasons on consent forms. The city’s Department of Health does not list reasons in a summary of vital statistics and they do not keep statistics on numbers of females and males that are aborted. …

“It is not a subject to be talked about in the open,” said Arpita Appanagarri, the women’s health initiative coordinator at Sakhi for South Asian women, a non-governmental organization focusing on domestic violence victims among South Asian Women. “Let alone collect data about it.”

Two concluding thoughts.

First, the story wastes the last quarter of its word count by rehashing complaints that trying to stop sex-selective abortion is some sort of plot against Asian cultures rather than an effort to save female babies from lethal discrimination.

Second, it is no accident the story begins with this:

“It’s a girl,” said the doctor. “You want to get rid of it? It’ll take just three minutes.”

Lily Zhou trembled — her motherly instincts tinged with lament. “It’s my daughter, it’s a life,” she recalled thinking. “I can’t do this.”

Tragically, the first response in these communities to the realization that the unborn child is a girl is too often—way too often—gendercide.