Here (via Jamie) is a fascinating interview with Mara Hvistendahl, author of a recent book that investigates the causes and consequences of gender imbalances in Asia. The Guardian has a summary

Hvisten dahl lays the blame squarely on western governments and businesses that have exported technology and pro-abortion practices without considering the consequences. Amniocentesis and ultrasound scans have had largely positive applications in the west, where they have been used to detect foetal abnormalities. But exported to Asia and eastern Europe they have been intricately linked to an explosion of sex selection and a mushrooming of female abortions.

I’ve noted the Marie Stopes clinics in China. Here’s a list of sponsors…

UK Department for International development; European Commission; UNFPA; UNDP; UNAIDS; The Asian Development Bank; Jersey Overseas Aid Commission; The Kadoorie Charitable Foundation; The Ford Foundation; Adidas

What are DFID, the EU and UNFPA – let alone The Ford Foundation and, er, Adidas – hoping to achieve? This is what Hvistendahl thinks they’ve helped to achieve…

While the natural sex ratio at birth is 105 boys born for every 100 girls, in India the figure has risen to 112 boys and in China 121. The Chinese city of Lianyungang recorded an astonishing 163 boys per 100 girls in 2007.

Hvistendahl raises the possibility that with so many surplus men – up to a fifth of men will be single in northwestern India by 2020 – large parts of the world could become like America’s wild west, with excess testosterone leading to raised levels of crime and violence.

“Historically, societies in which men substantially outnumber women are not nice places to live,” Hvistendahl writes. Already, the relative shortage of women in countries like China and Taiwan has helped create new markets in women.

In other words, the future’s bright for pimps and documentary filmmakers. Thanks UNFPA! In an earlier post I laid much of the blame with China’s brutal reproductive policies but Hvistendahl suggests this factor has been overplayed. What worries her is “consumer eugenics”…

The abortion debate in the West—and particularly in the United States— has been framed around the notion of choice. That idea worked well thirty years ago, when it helped shift the political discussion from one about when life begins toward one about a women’s right to control her pregnancy.

But choice now includes this whole range of options that are essentially frivolous consumer decisions. Now women can also choose not to have a girl. The fertility clinics that offer high-tech sex selection tout the notion of choice when explaining that parents can screen embryos for sex during in-vitro fertilization. And we’re not very far from the day when parents may be able to choose the eye color or hair color of their future child.

All of these developments demand an updating of the rhetoric surrounding abortion rights. There’s an urgent need to reframe the abortion debate around something other than choice.

I’ve never arrived at a conclusion on this puzzle but I know “choice” is a bad concept to structure our ideas around. That someone has the right to do something – if, indeed, they do – doesn’t mean it’s morally or just materially inconsequential. The freedom to do something, in other words, needn’t imply a freed0m from being judged. And sometimes we need to be judgemental. Otherwise our silence would suggest acquiescence.

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