Sex selection abortions in India and the United States

In an article in Slate, “It’s a Trick“, I described the great care taken by the makers of “It’s A Girl,” a “documentary” on sex selection abortion in India and China to disguise connections to anti-abortion groups in the United States and to use the language of women’s equality movements.  Many feminist groups across the country and on university campuses have been screening this movie.  When I was asked to moderate a discussion after one such screening, I became curious about the financing sources for the film and the background of its director.   Through searching the ownership of several domain names, I found that Evan Davis, the director of the film worked for Harvest Media Ministries, a media company that makes anti-abortion and other videos for Church groups.  When I asked him about his financing sources, he refused to disclose them, but did admit that some donors were people he met during his tenure at Harvest Media Ministries.

The “documentary” paints a partial picture of the complexities of the situation in India.  Without  knowledge of the realities in India, some people may have been misled by the slanted portrayal to support the film and donate to charities it promotes.  The only scenario on abortion presented in the film is one where those who believe in autonomy rights of women and those who believe in the right of the fetus agree – a woman should not be forced to have an abortion because her fetus is female (or for any other reason).  To this end, the movie extensively covers Mitu Khurana, a woman who left her husband because he physically abused after she refused to abort her female fetuses.

The film, however, fails to depict the most common cases in India –- women who make the choice to abort a female fetus without physical violence or overt coercion.  Poor women in villages have told me that they do not want to bring girls into the world and do not want them to go through what they have faced.   Some might argue that these women cannot make this choice “freely” in the context of widespread “son preference.”

The other type of situation that the film fails to depict is one where a woman would face violence from her husband and in-laws if she didn’t abort the fetus, but gave birth to a girl instead.  Mitu Khurana’s family is depicted as middle class and she escaped from her husband with the financial support of her parents.  Countless poor women do not have that luxury.  Indeed, they are in a “double-bind” — they face violence at home if they do not have an abortion, and face jail if the do.

In India, it is illegal for medical professionals to tell parents the gender of the fetus and abortions on the basis of the sex of the fetus are also banned.  Those who approach the issue of abortion from the perspective of the right to autonomy of a woman, might agree that sex selection abortion should be illegal in India, but may not think it should be illegal in the United States where there is no widespread son preference or societal pressure to have boys.

Yet people who think that sex selection abortion should not be banned in the United States might be surprised to learn that the film encourages people to donate to Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, an organization that supports sex selection bans in the United States.  In the film the president of the organization is presented as someone who works to prevent forced abortion in China and the organization’s website makes no mention of the group’s support of sex selection abortion bans in the United States.   It is only by searching other websites that support legislation in U.S. states to ban sex selection, one learns that Women’s Rights Without Frontiers is a coalition partner of, a group that seeks to ban sex selection abortion in the United States.

Banning sex selection abortion in the United States has become a part of the legislative strategy of anti-abortion groups.  To inform these discussions, Hannah Garden-Monheit, a student in the University of Chicago International Human Rights Clinic drafted a short fact-sheet on sex selection abortion bans.  She travelled to India in March 2013 as part of a Clinic project and previously worked as a research analyst for the Iowa Senate.



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