But while the practice is widespread in some Asian countries where cultural and political forces drive a strong preference for sons, there’s some debate about the extent to which Americans are using abortion for sex selection.
Some research suggests that it is happening, at least among Asian immigrants. In any case, the practice is becoming a new front in the nation’s abortion battles.
“It’s clearly one of the new types of regulation that the pro-life movement, or at least factions within it, are pursuing,” said Neal Devins, an expert on abortion law at the William & Mary Law School.
The debate over a ban — approved in Arizona, Illinois, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania and proposed in five other states this year — would be a new one in Richmond. Although abortion issues are a staple of General Assembly sessions, legislation concerning sex-selective abortion has never been formally proposed, veterans of local abortion politics say.
“We have not seen that kind of legislation introduced in Virginia,” said Jessica Honke, director of public policy for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia.
Olivia Gans, president of the Richmond-based Virginia Society for Human Life, said the topic has come up only in conversation.
“It’s been discussed in passing, but there has not been opportunity [to propose a bill],” she said. “I think it’s admirable that Mr. Minchew has brought this up, if for no other reason than it’s a conversation that should be had.”
Polling data suggest such a ban would be popular. A 2006 Zogby/Associated Television News poll found that 86 percent of Americans think it should be illegal to abort a fetus on the basis of its sex. Hardly anyone defends the practice, including Minchew’s Democratic opponent in the 10th District, Leesburg Town Council member Dave Butler.
But that hardly means politics surrounding sex-selective abortion are simple.
“It is an interesting proposal, for it confounds the usual left-right divide on this matter,” said James Davison Hunter, professor of religion, culture and social theory at the University of Virginia. “When people do use it [abortion] this way, I gather it is usually to favor male children. The proposal thus presents the challenge to feminists and other progressives to oppose it.”
While abortion-rights supporters do not defend sex-selective abortions, they contend that they happen rarely in the United States. They also say abortion foes are pushing bans to undermine abortion rights in general.
“We know there are millions fewer girls in parts of the world than there should be. That is not the case in America,” said Elizabeth Nash, public policy associate with the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on sexual and reproductive health.