In 2007, Steven W. Mosher, president of the anti-choice Population Research Institute, proposed a strategy to “divide and demoralize” abortion rights advocates, and to do so “even more than [the] partial birth abortion debate did.” His proposal: that “the pro-life movement adopt as our next goal the banning of sex-selective abortion.”
Arguing that this approach is an important step in the effort to outlaw abortion completely, Mosher continued:
Most people of moderate persuasion
, even those inclined to be “pro-choice,” will agree that the right of the unborn child to life should not depend on whether she (or he) possesses the requisite genitalia….While the pro-aborts are stuttering, we pro-lifers will be advancing new moral
and logical arguments against the exercise of the “right” to an abortion solely on the grounds of sex….
We can also highlight the trivial reasons that drive most abortions by highlighting the most frivolous of them all….In these and other ways, the debate over this legislation will not subtract from, but add to, the larger goal of reversing Roe v. Wade.
Abortion rights opponents quickly took up Mosher’s idea. In 2008, US Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ) introduced the strategically named “Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Discrimination Act,” which proposed prohibiting sex selective and “race selective” abortions. Between 2009 and 2011, similar bills were introduced in 13 states [pdf], including two that passed in Oklahoma and Arizona.
Now the anti-abortion group Live Action is apparently getting into the act. Two years ago, the right-wing sting operation hired actors to pose as a pimp and a prostitute, and ask about birth control and abortion services at Planned Parenthood clinics. It then released videos falsely implying that Planned Parenthood is complicit in sex trafficking. Investigations found that Live Action’s videos have “little relation to what happened in reality, due to heavy editing that alters the meaning of conversations.”
But the exposés of Live Action’s false exposé seem not to have stopped it. Over the past several months, Planned Parenthood has noticed a series of suspicious visits that have all the earmarks of a Live Action scheme. According to the Huffington Post, clinics in at least 11 states have reported two dozen or more "hoax visits" over the past several weeks, in which "a woman walks into a clinic, claims to be pregnant and asks a particular pattern of provocative questions about sex-selective abortions, such as how soon she can find out the gender of the fetus, by what means and whether she can schedule an abortion if she's having a girl."
US advocates of reproductive rights have often had a hard time confronting sex selection, in part because of the decades of relentless attacks on abortion rights. Much as American feminists are troubled by sex selection, most realize that to interrogate women about their reasons for terminating a pregnancy would do more harm than good. Unfortunately, this political conundrum has led many to muffle their concerns about sex selection, or even to deny that it’s a problem in countries other than India and China.
But Planned Parenthood’s response to the suspected Live Action sting has broken that pattern. An article by the organization’s vice president of education and senior medical advisor is explicit about the organization’s opposition to sex selection:
As a women’s rights advocate for nearly 100 years, Planned Parenthood finds the concept of sex selection deeply unsettling. Planned Parenthood does not offer sex determination services; our ultrasound services are limited to medical purposes….
Planned Parenthood condemns sex selection motivated by gender bias, and urges leaders to challenge the underlying conditions that lead to these beliefs and practices, including addressing the social, legal, economic, and political conditions that promote gender bias and lead some to value one gender over the other.
Forthright explanations like these are the best way to defeat right-wing efforts to brandish sex selection as a weapon in their war against abortion rights. When pro-choice leaders acknowledge sex selection as a real and significant problem, they clear the way to focus on the hypocrisy of opposing abortion rights in the name of concerns about girls and women.
Mara Hvistendahl, whose recent Pulitzer Prize-nominated book vexed anti-choice figures because it strongly condemns sex selection and just as strongly supports abortion rights, says it best: “Antiabortion advocates would have us believe that the practice of sex selection – a fundamentally sexist act – somehow justifies further curtailing women’s rights.”