Study: Anti-Asian racism basis for anti-abortion bans in 8 states | #ReproductiveJustice


Last year, nearly 500 restrictions on abortion and reproductive choice were proposed at the state level nation-wide. Among those abortion restrictions were bans on sex-selective abortion; bans that have now passed in eight states — Arizona, Illinois, North and South Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Kansas and North Carolina.

Advanced by Republican pro-life legislators, the ban on sex-selective abortions cite concerns that appear superficially feminist: to protect the “unborn” from gender discrimination prior to birth. Further, these bans are based on the assertion that male-biased birth ratios are evidence of sex-selective abortion; that these male-biased birth ratios are only found in India and China; that these male-biased birth ratios are evidence of sex-selective abortion occurring in the United States; that the growing influx of Asian women immigrants from India and China means sex-selective abortion is occurring here; and that the U.S. is one of the few remaining countries in the world that has yet to ban sex-selective abortion. As I wrote about last year, these are the kinds of arguments that are being expressed on the floor of state legislatures, and they are succeeding in restricting reproductive rights for women living in those states.

Yet, closer examination of the arguments of Republican legislators reveals that it is predominantly unfounded and wholly racist anti-Asian stereotypes — not facts — that serve as the principle justification for these recent restrictions on sex-selective abortions.


Last week, the National Asian Pacific American Woman’s Forum (@NAPAWF) published a comprehensive study in conjunction with The University of Chicago Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic and Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) that show just how deeply racist GOP lawmakers have been in advancing the dubious cause of sex-selective abortion. And what is most galling is how skillfully these GOP lawmakers have been in hiding their anti-Asian and anti-woman rhetoric.

Birth ratios are typically expressed as a number reflecting the number of male children that are born relative to female children; the normal sex ratio is 1.05 — 105 male children are born for every 100 female children — reflecting what seems to be a slight biological predisposition for male children. Any number higher than 1.05 is considered “male-biased”.

NAPAWF’s study dismantles the myth that male-biased birth ratios are evidence of sex-selective abortion and are only found in India and China. Instead, NAPAWF argues that male-biased birth ratios can occur naturally, and through sex selection during in vitro fertilization therapies. Furthermore, NAPAWF compellingly notes that — contrary to the arguments of those in favour of sex-selective abortion bans — male-biased birth ratios are not limited to India and China; instead, high male birth rates relative to females are found in many countries throughout the world. The highest male-biased birth ratio is in Liechtenstein and Armenia, both countries that are predominantly White. In fact, only four of the 13 countries with birth ratios exceeding the biological average (1.05) are Asian.

Table of countries with highest and lowest male-female birth ratios. Credit: NAPAWF.
Table of countries with highest and lowest male-female birth ratios. Credit: NAPAWF.

Proponents of sex-selective abortion cite a single scientific study — Almond and Edlund 2008 (see this post for the data from that paper) — that claims that Asian families that have two girl children are more likely to have a son for their third child, a finding that pro-life legislators argue is evidence of sex-selective abortion. However, the data used in this study suffered from small sample size, and also assessed out-dated data from over 15 years ago. NAPAWF’s study used a larger ACS dataset from recent years and determined that birth ratios are similar for US-born and foreign-born Asian Americans. They found that US-born and foreign-born Asian Americans have birth ratios similar to — or in some cases lower than — US-born Whites.


And while NAPAWF’s study recapitulates Almond and Edlund’s finding that Asian American families are slightly more likely to have a male child after having two girls, NAPAWF’s study also shows that Asian American families are more likely to have a female child as their first child, and after having two boys; these data strongly argue against widespread sex-selective abortion practices among Asian Americans.


Finally, NAPAWF conducted a survey of Asian Americans, asking if they had any preference for the gender of their child, and found that most parents — as expected — didn’t care.


So, the notion that Asian Americans by and large are so biased against female children that Asian and Asian American women are en masse aborting them in utero? A racist myth that I noted previously draws upon archaic stereotypes of Asian American women as inscrutable, immoral and barbaric.

Instead, sex-selective abortion bans are thinly-veiled attempts to place greater limitations on the reproductive choices of women by restricting abortion access; and, in this case, are justified through wildly unscientific and anti-Asian rhetoric. In some cases, sex-selective abortion bans are being passed in states where abortion is already banned for the gestational age when the sex of a fetus can even be determined. In the two states — Illinois and Pennsylvania — where sex-selective birth ratios have been in effect for over a decade, NAPAWF reports zero impact on the sex ratio at birth for all women in the state, or for Asian American women in particular.

Functionally, therefore, sex-selective abortion bans do nothing more than add greater stress to women undergoing the process of seeking a legal abortion, all in service of a larger pro-life agenda to overturn Roe v. Wade. Pro-life legislators have even said as much; writes NAPAWF:

In 2008, Steven Mosher, head of the Population Research Institute (a leading anti-abortion group), stated: “I propose that we — the pro-life movement — adopt as our next goal the banning of sex- and race-selective abortion.”And in a 2008 article, an influential conservative thinker and law professor declared that the “key to eroding Roe v. Wade… is to pass a number of state or federal laws that restrict abortion rights in ways approved of by at least fifty percent of the public,” such as “a ban on abortion for sex selection.” Following this lead, anti-abortion groups have created model legislation to ban sex-selective abortion.

In short, these abortion bans are predicated upon an entirely manufactured issue.

And if we want evidence of just how manufactured this issue is, consider this map showing where sex-selective abortion bans have been passed:


That’s right, legislatively, these eight states are following in the example set by China, Vietnam and Kosovo. Contrary to pro-life arguments, there are almost no countries in the world that have passed restrictions on sex-selective abortions. Why? Because internationally it is largely a non-issue.

Yet, the myth of Asian sex-selective abortion easily fits into America’s stereotypical narratives of the barbaric, backwards, and patriarchal East — the final frontier of misogyny where we imagine that Confucian sexism and empty morals facilitate the widespread and unconscionable murder of girl babies. And while, there is some evidence of female infanticide and sex-selective abortion in rural areas of China (exacerbated by China’s One Child Policy) and other parts of Asia, NAPAWF demonstrates that male-biased birth ratios are most closely related to familial poverty, and there is zero evidence that such practices are occurring in the United States among recent Asian immigrants.

This is precisely why we cannot allow these regressive and racist restrictions on reproductive choice to stand; their very continued existence is based on legislated anti-Asian racism that have been passed primarily to limit the reproductive freedom of all women.

Act Now! Right now, NAPAWF has joined forces with NAACP to file a lawsuit challenging Arizona’s sex-selective abortion ban. Sign up for NAPAWF’s newsletter to find out how you can get involved, and of course, donations never hurt!

Read More: Mother Jones – A New Study Demolishes the Racist Myths Behind Sex-Selective Abortion Bans

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  • crazy MMer

    Yet, the myth of Asian sex-selective abortion easily fits into America’s stereotypical narratives of the barbaric, backwards, and patriarchal East — the final frontier of misogyny where we imagine that Confucian sexism and empty morals facilitate the widespread and unconscionable murder of girl babies.

    Doth my eye deceive me? Are you really comrade Dr Fang? You’re actually questioning against the estabilshment’s propaganda?

    I don’t want to get into the choice political BS, but I have to say that because it exists on paper doesn’t mean it’s enforced – like so many laws in those 3rd world countries.

    The statistics about China, Vietnam and India’s ratios are fascinating data, but probably highly inaccurate due to the large agrarian populations. It could be over or under for their census and especially for China where they tend to hide births away from the government because of the 1 child policy…

    BUT, there’s no denying that sex selective abortions do occur in those countries and female infanticide is a major problem; but hey at least “some” feminists can’t pin clitorectomy on us abusive and sexist AM patriarchs (which if “certain” people want to compare is from another continent)…

    LIkewise the problem I have with these racist laws is associating foreign nationals with Asian Americans and completely ignoring the fact that US WHITE households tend to have higher boys for the 2nd child if the first one is a girl.

    This is a well known “statistics” in census counts.

  • J. Lamb (Snoopy Jenkins)

    Yeah … Jenn, I recommend banning crazy MMer and deleting the comment above. Needlessly inflammatory rhetoric doesn’t encourage the healthy dialogue you seek.

  • Jia Yin Tang

    No, don’t delete crazyMM’s comment. It addressed a lot of beef I had with this article as well.

    For one, I found that Asian Americans, and especially their children, have more westernized beliefs than their Chinese counterparts. Therefore, I wasn’t surprised to learn there is not gender bias in Table 4.

    I agree with crazyMM’s statement on how statistics aren’t reliable. I’m not sure what it’s like in India, but for China it’s obvious that we have a flawed government system and corrupt officials. In fact, corruption is probably the biggest problem in China today. Therefore, a lot of reports in villages can be falsified in exchange for money and ect. The only question is whether if it’s negligible or not. Frankly, if it’s costing us 3% of our GDP, then yeah, it matters.

    I also want to mention a cultural distinction: urban China views rural China the same way Americans stereotype Chinese people as backwards, sex-selective, dog-eating, and patriarchal. It’s not something to be proud of, but I want to highlight in cities, it’s rare to find someone who thinks a daughter is worse than a son. I don’t know the opinions of rural Chinese on the matter, but in some areas, it does matter to the point the government lets a few (hundred) villages have over 1 baby with no fine. I’m not sure which part represents the entire country the best, since urban China makes up over half the population but landmass-wise, it’s tiny.

  • Peter

    The gender discrepancy in India and China is not a myth. There are over 20 million more men than women of marrying age in both those countries. India and China together account for 40 percent of the planet. 40%. Forty. Percent. I don’t agree with GOP attempts to limit womens’ access to family planning services. I also don’t think that Asian Americans suffer from the same gender bias as Asia at large. But Asian female abortions are not a myth.

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