China’s one-child policy should be the dream come true of population-control advocates. But there’s just one problem: The Chinese prefer boys to girls, so girls are more likely to be aborted than boys. Sixteen million girls, to be precise, between 1985 and 2005, a slaughter of Stalin-esque proportions.

That number astounds even the Chinese government, who now faces a society with many more males and many females and is trying to get people to keep a girl as their one child. It also astounds William Saletan at Slate . Why?

It’s a terrible convergence of ancient prejudice with modern totalitarianism. Girls are culturally and economically devalued; the government uses powerful financial levers to prevent you from having another child; therefore, to make sure you can have a boy, you abort the girl you’re carrying . . . .

Part of me wishes this turnaround [in numbers of girls aborted] were being driven by a better motive. But perhaps we should be especially relieved that pure self-interest is behind it. If the devaluation of women, and the expression of that devaluation through sex-selective abortion, becomes a broadly understood threat to regimes worldwide, women won’t need to persuade men to value and treat girls more fairly. The population numbers will do the talking.

It’s not the sixteen million children dead; it’s that they’re all girls. It’s not that abortion is wrong. In fact, abortion for a number of reasons is just fine. It’s that abortion for the wrong reason (in this case, sexism and government pressure) and in large amounts is wrong. You have the total freedom to abort, but you should stay within the bounds of propriety.

Interesting. I seem to remember that one lesson of the twentieth century is just how many millions can be slaughtered within the bounds of propriety.

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