US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Boy or girl? Will "early detection" lead to sex-selective abortions?

Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

News that a new blood test can reveal the sex of a fetus at a mere seven weeks of pregnancy has raised some alarm that such early determination may lead some couples to terminate a pregnancy based on the sex of the fetus. In fact, within a week, US Catholic got a press release for a bioethics conference focusing on this disturbing possibility, sponsored by the Joni and Friends International Disability Center.

The news sparked an interesting conversation among the editors at US Catholic: "I feel a little bit like fretting that people are going to have abortions if they don’t get the gender they want is like worrying that my house is going to be destroyed by a tornado because thunderstorms are in the forecast. Not that I think we should be testing for gender, Downs, etc. but isn’t this a little alarmist?" wrote one editor.

Responded another: "Actually, I don’t think the concern over gender-selective abortions is unfounded. There’s a recent book that documents how they are becoming increasingly prevalent across Asia and Eastern Europe, and it suggests the trend could make its way to the U.S. And if people can find out the gender of their baby in only 7 weeks, that may be early enough for them to be less concerned about saying 'let’s try again.' I know it sounds crazy but I don’t think it is outside the realm of possibility." (The link in the first paragraph to the New York Times health blog explores that possibility among some Asian American groups.)

For my part, it would seem odd to me that American women would choose to abort a female fetus, since I don’t think there is a great preference for male children in our culture anymore (or I could be deluded). Sex-selective abortion (or infanticide) is certainly a reality in China and India, where I think gender-selective abortions are illegal but still fairly common, with China’s male-female ratio now totally out of whack.

Absent such cultural pressure, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to go through any type of abortion-related procedure just because the fetus wasn’t the right gender. The Guttmacher Institute did a study in 2005 on the reasons women have abortions, and the gender of the baby wasn't even an option. That could change now, if at seven weeks a woman could know the gender of a baby, but since most women reported economic hardship and/or relationship issues as the primary reasons for abortion, the adoption of sex-selective abortion would be a major shift.

I do wonder, though, if such a fear of this kind of thing presumes the worst of women and their partners. I know many people who would like to have at least one child of both genders, but I can't imagine anyone choosing to go through an abortion for that reason alone.