An Economist Argues for Sex-Selection Abortion

Author Amy K. Hall Published on 12/27/2012

In an article titled “Why Indian parents should be allowed to choose whether to have girls,” economist Atanu Dey reacts to the situation in India of “tens of millions” of “missing girls” by saying that the recent laws against sex-selection abortion are the wrong way to go:

Government interference in the personal lives of people is nothing remarkable or new for India. After all, Indians endured British colonial rule until 1947 and following that, socialist governments took over which continued to enforce the rules inherited from the colonial period. So the denial of reproductive rights to women in India should not come as a surprise. This, however, is a particularly heartless move. It condemns too many girls to lives of great misery and to some to a death penalty for the crime of being born a girl.

Let me get this straight…leaving aside the fact that we don’t kill people to prevent them from having difficult lives, according to Dey, it’s a very bad thing for a girl to be “condemned” to death for being born a girl, and it’s “heartless” for the government to cause this situation to occur. However, allowing the parents to save her from this fate by giving her the death penalty for the crime of being conceived a girl is compassionate…to the girl…because it saves her from the death penalty.

I’ve seen some seriously confused pro-choice arguments before, but I can’t imagine anything ever topping that one. He continues:

Parental rights, one assumes, includes the freedom to decide when and how many children to have, and if possible, the freedom to choose the sex of their children. Forcing people to have children of an undesired sex is an infringement of those rights. The parents have the responsibility of bringing up their children, not the government.

What on earth is he talking about? What is this right to choose the sex of your child? You have no control over the sex of your child. “Designer baby” statements like this one are always said in a way that makes it sound as if parents can pick and choose the characteristics of their child. Please, never forget: When it comes to designer babies, there is never just one child involved whose genes are being chosen. No, there are many children who are being killed until the “right” child comes along. Genetic selection involves killing.

Second, I agree that the parents have the responsibility of bringing up their children (or at the very least, protecting those children while they’re under their care). That’s exactly the point. This responsibility would seem to be in opposition to their desire to kill the children they don’t want, so I’m not sure how this helps Dey’s case.

Technology provides tools which are always neutral although economic agents using them are motivated by ends to which one may attach moral values. Those who want to use technology to limit human freedom are naturally opposed to those who use it to increase their choices.

It’s astounding to me that Dey can’t recognize the monstrosity of his own language. Imagine technology had been invented in Germany in 1940 that would locate all the Jews who were attempting to hide their identity, and that technology was being used successfully to support the Nazis’ choice to raise only Aryan citizens. Would one label the objectors to this as those who “want to limit human freedom,” who are “naturally opposed to those who use technology to increase their choices”? Doesn’t the choice being made make all the difference?

Using the emotionally-laden terms “freedom” and “choice” while glossing over the nature of the choice actually being discussed does nothing but create obfuscatory rhetoric. The government limits all sorts of choices. There is no freedom to steal, or freedom to assault, or freedom to kill, no matter how much technology exists to assist those choices.

By restricting information which may be useful for parents to make an informed choice whether or not to have a female child, the government is sacrificing the right of a child to a decent life in order to protect the “rights” of a fetus. If people cannot avoid having girls that they do not want, they will be forced to have more children to reach their desired number of sons, and to ration their resources to the detriment of girls….

In the end, in the contest between the people and the government, the drive for freedom proves to be stronger and eventually overcomes the forces that seek to limit freedom. The government will fail in this case as well—as it must for the sake of the girls.

So there you have it. Killing girls because they’re girls is now being spun as a compassionate act being done in the best interest of girls.


British colonial rule did indeed interfere in personal lives by preventing the killing of women. And it seems to me that this tradition is one India should be proud to continue.