What You Need to Know About Selective Abortion Bans

There have been 250 abortion-related bills proposed already in 2019, with a draconian bill that would effectively ban abortion at six weeks just signed into law in Georgia.

The right to make a private medical decision is under threat. One method anti-abortion forces use is pushing incremental legislation that might superficially seem like a good idea, so people unwittingly support it and undermine abortion rights in the process.

A classic example is selective abortion bans: barring people from getting an abortion to select fetal sex or to avoid a fetal disability.

Arguing against such bans can feel challenging. Abortion foes have controlled this conversation for so long that it’s easy to fall into their rhetorical traps. So here’s some information about this kind of legislation — and some material to arm yourself with for inevitable arguments.

For an example of these laws, look at Texas. Its state Senate banned abortion on the basis of race, sex or disability — something lawmakers refer to as “discriminatory abortion.” When it comes to race, lawmakers are playing on old and racist tales about abortion as “black genocide,” which is a deeply entrenched myth.

In the case of assigned sex, people are relying on incorrect data that suggests parents request selective abortions for fetuses believed to be female. Some claim there are “missing girls” in nations, such as China and India, because this practice is so widespread. (It is not.) What’s more likely is the selection of embryos on the basis of sex in IVF.

Most expecting parents don’t get information about assigned sex until around 18 weeks — sometimes a little earlier for patients who have extra prenatal testing — and it should be noted that nearly 90 percent of abortions take place before this cutoff. Carrying a pregnancy for months only to abort it because you don’t like the genitals you were dealt is pretty ludicrous.

With disability, lawmakers like to claim expecting parents would rather get an abortion than have a disabled child. Some point to data from Iceland showing a large number of parents who get prenatal testing opt for abortion if a fetus appears to have Down syndrome. Curiously, said lawmakers do not engage with the lack of support for the disability community — and their own attacks on programs and services for disabled people — when they insist they’re preventing genetic eliminationism.

So all three of these arguments rely on data that is either bad or heavily misinterpreted to advance a political point.

For instance, in the case of disability, it’s absolutely true that some parents opt for abortion on the basis of a prenatal diagnosis. But that’s their right. And Down syndrome isn’t the only disability that can be diagnosed before birth. Some fetuses have conditions so severe that they’re likely to die before they’re even born. And some parents don’t feel equipped to deal with disabled children for a variety of reasons.

All of these arguments are designed to narrow access to abortion services by forcing patients and providers to jump through hoops. They also pose a very real danger to patients. Some may feel like they can’t request prenatal testing and get more information about a pregnancy while deciding on abortion or other options without running afoul of one of these laws. And the laws discourage frank conversations in pregnancy about possible outcomes and how parents want to deal with them.

The bottom line is we have to unequivocally defend access to abortion, and that starts with not playing their games.

Treat these laws as what they are: Bans attempting to make it harder to get abortion care. Note that these choices are rare, and stress that it’s the parents’ right to make the choices on their own.

And if people are really worried about any of these scenarios, they should recognize that abortion is the symptom, not the problem. Disabilism, racism and sexism are all very real things, so let’s tackle those instead of making it harder for people to get health care.

Photo credit: Charles Edward Miller/Creative Commons


Leo C
Leo Custer6 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

Mia B
Mia B11 days ago


Sherry Kohn
Sherry Kohn11 days ago

Many thanks to you !

Danuta W
Danuta Watola11 days ago

thanks for sharing

Debbi W
Debbi W11 days ago

Petition signed. I can understand why a woman wouldn't want to give birth to a child who would have a lifetime of struggling to survive. The worst abortion bans are the one who include punishment for a woman who has an abortion. Who in the hell do those lawmakers think they are to in prisioned a woman for do what is Federally legal???? I have to believe that law would be struck down if tested by the Supreme Court, but there is no telling how all of the republican justices would vote.

Angeles Madrazo
Angeles Madrazo12 days ago

Thank you

Peggy B
Peggy B12 days ago


Janet B
Janet B12 days ago


Alea C
Alea C12 days ago

The reason these bans are gaining traction is because republicans are hoping one of these laws will make it to SCOTUS so SCOTUS can overturn Roe v Wade. Which it will.

Loredana V
Loredana V12 days ago

Thanks for the info.
Abortion bans are unconstitutional and a serious damage for many women.