Bioethics Blogs

Is Sex Selection Ethical?

In some countries where there is a strong preference for sons due to cultural and religious reasons, women sometimes choose to have an abortion after learning the sex of the fetus they carry is female, which is often referred to as sex selection abortion. For example, sex selection abortion is common in India and has increased significantly in the couple of last decades, especially for pregnancies following a firstborn daughter. The prevalence of sex selection abortion is also common in China, often referred to as the “missing girls of China” phenomenon, and is due to a similar cultural preference for sons as well as the One Child Policy.

Given the strong pressure women are under to have sons, is ethical for them to have sex selection abortions? Some point out that it may not be women’s authentic choice that is leading them to abort female fetuses but rather familial pressure from their husband and other family members as well as broader social pressure. In these situations, paternalistic approaches may be more justifiable in order to protect women from oppressive social forces that may coerce them into having sex selection abortion. From a justice perspective, outlawing sex selection abortion sends the message that sex discrimination is wrong, seeks to protect female fetuses, and attempts to ensure a balanced birth ratio between females and males.

Should sex selection be more permissible in countries where there is not a strong preference for children of a particular sex? For example, should sex selection be prohibited in countries like India and China where there is a strong preference for male children but legal in countries where sex selection technology is used to have girls as frequently as boys?

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.