Abortions to select sex moving from Asian countries to West, author says


Catholic News Service

ROME — Aborting unborn girls on account of their gender has been a documented trend in certain Asian countries for at least two decades. Now, according to an Italian biologist and author, the practice is also growing in the West.

Women and couples who emigrate from cultures where male children are deemed more prestigious and economically valuable “will often bring those same values to their new country,” said Anna Meldolesi, author of “Never born: Why the world has lost 100 million women” (“Mai nate: Perche il mondo ha perso 100 milioni di donne”), in a telephone interview with Catholic News Service Jan. 22.

In 1990, Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen calculated at 100 million the number of women who, by the laws of nature, should be part of the world population but are not. The “missing women” in question, Meldolesi wrote, have been the victims of infanticide, intentional neglect of health and nutrition, and more recently, abortion on the basis of sex.

Inspired by studies of sex-selective abortion among Asian immigrants in North America, Meldolesi said she tried to find out if there was a similar trend in her own country of Italy.

Using four years of demographic data from ISTAT, the Italian statistics bureau, she found that the “sex ratio” of first-born children appeared to occur at the natural rate of about 105 males to 100 females, similar to the Italian population and other nationalities.

But when it came to second and third children, figures showed that the number of boys increased markedly — with the disproportion as high as 119 to 100 — indicating that parents had probably aborted female fetuses, Meldolesi said.

She concluded that sex selective abortion, or “feminine feticide,” has been common among Italy’s Chinese and Indian immigrant populations, and also, to a lesser extent, among Albanians.

A review in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, in January gave the book high marks for highlighting a “gigantic drama,” and for recognizing that “it is very difficult to fight the battle for safer abortion and against gendercide at the same time.”

Catholic moral teaching forbids abortion under any circumstances. Meldolesi, by contrast, supports legalized abortion. Yet she acknowledged in the interview that, “for those who are ‘pro-choice’ it becomes very problematic to find a coherent solution to this disgraceful phenomenon.”

She said that resistance to limits on legal abortion “should not stop (supporters of legalized abortion) from seeing the consequences and realizing that there should be some changes in the rules.”

People on both sides of the abortion issue should put aside differences to find solutions to a long-term problem with “very deep societal and cultural roots,” she said.

Most important would be an effort to educate immigrant communities, many of whom come from highly patriarchal societies in which women are valued “only to have children and be mothers, preferably of boys,” she said. Raising girls is seen as “a waste of time and resources” because they will eventually be married off and will take care of their husbands’ parents in their old age, Meldolesi said.

Meldolesi points to South Korea as an example of a country where gendercide was once a serious problem, but where it has been effectively discouraged through educational campaigns, legislation and even soap operas that depict women as valuable, working members of society.

Other measures could include legislation that would prohibit health care workers from revealing the sex of a fetus before Italy’s 12-week legal abortion period, Meldolesi said. But she noted that methods for ascertaining fetal gender at about seven weeks of pregnancy already exist, and their commercial availability is expected soon, promising to make the practice of gendercide only more common.