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Publication Date



Abortion, Sex selection


Law and Gender


Legal prohibitions on sex-selective abortions are proliferating in the United States. Eight state legislatures have banned abortions sought on the basis of the sex of the fetus, 21 states have considered such laws since 2009, and a similar bill is pending in U.S. Congress. These laws have been introduced and enacted without any empirical data about their impact or effectiveness. Prior studies of U.S. Census data found sex ratios among foreign-born Chinese, Korean and Indian immigrants were skewed in favor of boys, but only in families where there were already one or two girls. Using the variation in the timing of bans in Illinois and Pennsylvania as natural experiments, we compare the pre-ban and post-ban sex ratios of certain Asian newborn children in these states over 12-year periods. We then compare these ratios with the sex ratios of Asian newborn children in neighboring states during the same period. We find that the bans in Illinois and Pennsylvania are not associated with any changes in sex ratios at birth among Asians. In Illinois and its neighboring states, the sex ratio at birth of Asian children was not male-biased during our study period. On the other hand, the sex ratio at birth among Asians in Pennsylvania and its neighboring states was skewed slightly in favor of boys, but the enactment of the ban did not normalize the sex ratio. This strongly suggests that sex-selective abortion bans have had no impact on the practice of sex selection, to the extent that it occurs, in these states. This finding is highly relevant to legislative and policy debates in the U.S. Congress and state legislatures where sex-selective abortion laws are being considered.

Publication Citation

Published in: Forum for Health Economics & Policy (2014).