Alice Song / Sun Staff Photographer

Sital Kalantry, Cornell alum, discusses sex-selective abortion laws in the United States and India. March 15, 2018

March 16, 2018

Sex-Selective Abortion Perpetuates Gender Discrimination in Asian Communities, Prof Says

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Prof. Sital Kalantry, law, argued that the ban on sex-selective abortions supported by pro-choice advocates is a discriminatory practice that relies on racial stereotypes to sustain itself at a lecture,Thursday.

The aim of the lecture was to “raise awareness of sex-selective abortion laws in the U.S. and how ideas of reproductive choice are transnational,” according to Prof. Durba Ghosh, history and director of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

Kalantry raised concerns that many well-meaning pro-choice advocates either “don’t make it their priority to challenge the [abortion] bans or question the constitutionality of the bans” when the abortions are subject to “strategic framing” as attempts to select against female offsprings.

“I’m really alarmed,” said Trisica Munroe, administrative manager of the FGSS department. “It was really interesting how the language of anti-discrimination and equality is being used to sneakily prop up what’s ultimately an end point which will be a really discriminatory medical and legal result.”

The argument supporting sex-selective abortion relies on a racial stereotype that Asian-Americans want male rather than female children more than other ethnic groups.

“In recent years there has been a state of anti-abortion legislation targeting sex-selective abortion,” Kalantry said. “And the dominant public narrative has centered on spewing false assumptions about Asian-American s and exaggerating empirical data to fit stereotypes.”

In fact, all ethnic groups “want a boy more than they want a girl” if they could have only one child, according to a poll commissioned by Kalantry. Furthermore, the preference for male babies is mostly motivated by reasons unrelated to sex selection, such as a desire for “family balancing.”

“The practice of sex-selective abortions is not wide-spread … in the United States,” Kalantry said. “Moreover, if women do abort to sex-select, which we do not have conclusive evidence for, we can’t attribute that Asian women who do so will have the same motives in the United States as they did in India or even that it has the same meaning.”

Despite these statistics, some pro-choice advocates support sex-selective abortion because a ban would prevent discrimination against a fetus based on its female sex. However, assuming that Asian-Americans have the same motives as Indians is not accurate, Kalantry argued.

“I just want to complicate this discourse in the feminist debates to recognize that in many of the transnational organizations and NGOs that are working in many countries … doesn’t recognize that the practice can be discriminatory in one context and may not in another context,” Kalantry said.

Advocacy by Asian-American  groups to change their public image may help dismantle the foundations sustaining sex selective abortions, Kalantry said.

“I think the rhetoric is changing a little bit,” Kalantry said. “I also think it has to do with the new data and the work that [The National Asian Pacific American Women] are getting data analysis done.”