Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2013


Abortion, Sex selection


Law and Gender


Seven states in the United States have passed sex selection abortion bans, bills are pending in several other states, and a bill has been reintroduced in the U.S. Congress. In analyzing state legislative hearings, this article documents how the wide-spread practice of sex selection in other countries, particularly India and China, is being used by anti-abortion groups as a way to restrict women's right to autonomy in the United States. The dominant feminist paradigm in the United States takes a universal position on sex selection bans - these bans contravene women's right to autonomy and should not be permitted in any country. But engaging with the true realities of the situation in India, it is clear that sex selection in favor of boys does raise concerns for women's equality. This article develops a feminist framework to understand sex selection from a global perspective. This approach prioritizes individual women's autonomy, but suggests that the context in which sex selection occurs should be taken into account and the impact of sex selection on women as a group must be considered.

Statutes in the United States that ban sex selection abortion are framed as protecting the fetus from sex discrimination. The contextualist feminist approach, on the other hand, focuses the conversation on the equality of women and girls who are already born. The intent of the individual woman who sex selects is no longer the focus, but the impact (if any) that it has on the equality of girls and women as a group should be the relevant criterion for determining whether or not sex selection should be limited.