By Hilary White

February 27, 2008 ( – An article in this weekend’s Los Angeles Times reports that more North American women are using inexpensive genetic tests to determine the sex of their children before birth. These tests may then become the determining factor in deciding for abortion.

The tests, which cost $300 or less, are often used to determine the sex of a child before birth. The LA Times reports that they have been found to be unreliable and more than a hundred women have launched suits against one Massachusetts company, Acu-Gen, over wrong results. Direct-to-consumer genetic tests have burgeoned in the market with about 1,400 different types currently sold.

Columnist William Saletan, following up today at, writes that the article is an indication of the growing public acceptance of sex-selective abortion. He asks, how “does a taboo begin to die?”

Saletan writes that the new twist on sex-selective abortion, which is known to be widespread in North America and has had devastating demographic consequences in India, is the “ease, safety and privacy” with which it is now available. Sex-selection tests are cheap and easy, and although their accuracy has come into question, they are often a precursor to abortion.

Saletan points to the shift in emphasis indicated by the LA Times article: “The very idea of elective prenatal sex-testing used to be controversial, especially in light of rampant sex-selective abortion in Asia. Now these tests are being bought, used and reported just like any other prenatal test.” The increasing social acceptability of the practice is indicated by the fact that the couples and women interviewed did not hesitate to allow their names to be used, although none of those quoted actually aborted.

It is abortion, writes Saletan, that, while not the focus of the piece, “looms behind” the issue of genetic testing. Pro-life groups have not failed to warn that this is the natural result of a combination of easily available tests and abortion-on-demand. In May last year, the UK pro-life group LIFE warned that genetic testing for the baby’s sex would lead to increased rates of abortion. LIFE spokesman, Michaela Aston, told the Sun Online that the new test is “very dangerous.” “It could lead to babies being aborted simply for being the ‘wrong’ sex.”

Saletan writes that the “underlying stigma” of sex-selection abortion “has already decayed” as indicated by the emphasis of the LA Times article. “The problem [identified by the article] isn’t that they’re screening their offspring for sex. The problem is that in doing so they’re being thwarted by flawed technology and exaggerated marketing.”

Some of the women who have launched lawsuits against companies offering the tests, are also calling for them to be regulated by the government. But Saletan points out that this is the beginning of a path to total acceptance.

“Eventually, we’ll establish rules to ensure the safety and efficacy of foetal sex tests. At that point, we’ll declare them adequately regulated. That’s how a taboo begins to die.”

Recent statistics from the UN show that in India, the country that has arguably the largest problem with sex-selection abortion, as many as 7000 girls are killed by abortion every day. A UN report issued in 2006 said, “Since 1991, statistics reveal drastic declines in the number of girl children in the most prosperous states and districts – as much as 50-100 fewer girls per 1,000 boys than elsewhere.”

Read related coverage:

Home Gender Test Will Lead to Sex-Selection Abortion, Experts Warn

Ultrasounds Used for Sex-Selected Abortion in Ethnic Canadian Communities

7,000 Unborn Girls Die from Sex-Selection Abortion Daily in India