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The wholesale slaughter of unborn girls that has ravaged countries like China, India, and Korea is perhaps the most characteristically modern tragedy, perfectly fitted to a fleshless Internet age. There are no stacks of bodies, no horrified crowds of onlookers, no fiery speeches. Just bureaucracy, choice, and a chilling absence.

But that absence is undeniably present, and will become more present to the public mind thanks to Mara Hvistendahl’s new book Unnatural Selection . Jonathan Last’s review provides some powerful data from the work:

In nature, 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. This ratio is biologically ironclad. Between 104 and 106 is the normal range, and that’s as far as the natural window goes. Any other number is the result of unnatural events.

Yet today in India there are 112 boys born for every 100 girls. In China, the number is 121—though plenty of Chinese towns are over the 150 mark. China’s and India’s populations are mammoth enough that their outlying sex ratios have skewed the global average to a biologically impossible 107. But the imbalance is not only in Asia. Azerbaijan stands at 115, Georgia at 118 and Armenia at 120.

What is causing the skewed ratio: abortion. If the male number in the sex ratio is above 106, it means that couples are having abortions when they find out the mother is carrying a girl. By Ms. Hvistendahl’s counting, there have been so many sex-selective abortions in the past three decades that 163 million girls, who by biological averages should have been born, are missing from the world. Moral horror aside, this is likely to be of very large consequence.

The chaos that could very well result from multiple countries having huge populations of poor rural (and urban, for that matter) men and no women on the scene is hard to overestimate. The inherent instability of groups that skew unnaturally male, combined with the impending population collapse in China thanks to the One-Child policy and population collapse in Russia, Japan, and much of Europe thanks to a culture of sexual selfishness, could result in a very changed global landscape in a hundred years.

Hvistendahl adduces a host of other problems resulting from the absence of girls, both in the short and long term. So the problem is clear: sex-selective abortion has led major portions of the globe down a rabbit hole from which there may be no escape. The solution? Abortion!

[Hvistendahl] believes that something must be done about the purposeful aborting of female babies or it could lead to “feminists’ worst nightmare: a ban on all abortions.”

It is telling that Ms. Hvistendahl identifies a ban on abortion—and not the killing of tens of millions of unborn girls—as the “worst nightmare” of feminism. Even though 163 million girls have been denied life solely because of their gender, she can’t help seeing the problem through the lens of an American political issue. Yet, while she is not willing to say that something has gone terribly wrong with the pro-abortion movement, she does recognize that two ideas are coming into conflict: “After decades of fighting for a woman’s right to choose the outcome of her own pregnancy, it is difficult to turn around and point out that women are abusing that right.”

Late in “Unnatural Selection,” Ms. Hvistendahl makes some suggestions as to how such “abuse” might be curbed without infringing on a woman’s right to have an abortion. In attempting to serve these two diametrically opposed ideas, she proposes banning the common practice of revealing the sex of a baby to parents during ultrasound testing. And not just ban it, but have rigorous government enforcement, which would include nationwide sting operations designed to send doctors and ultrasound techs and nurses who reveal the sex of babies to jail. Beyond the police surveillance of obstetrics facilities, doctors would be required to “investigate women carrying female fetuses more thoroughly” when they request abortions, in order to ensure that their motives are not illegal.

Hvistendahl has given the world an invaluable document about the costs of abortion, and its uncontrollable effects. Even her refusal to accept the logical conclusion of her own argument - that abortion is the worst human rights disaster of the contemporary age - is a powerful testament to the habits of mind that make abortion a sacred cow.

The abortion-rights movement begins with a single a priori commitment: that choice is the highest value. This spurious first principle is why the often serious and altruistic desire of abortion activists to help women ends up with bizarrely horrible conclusions like 163 million dead women. If choice conquers all, then life and death will just have to adapt as best they can.

Aristotle and Aquinas spoke often about how small errors at the beginning become cavernous pits of mental contradiction in the end. Pro-choice advocates would do well to learn from their wisdom. Turns out first things still matter.

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