The effort by conservative DLP senator John Madigan to return abortion to the political agenda in Australia mirrors an apparently concerted international campaign to use the issue of s-x selection as a way for anti-choice advocates to reassert state limitations on abortion.

Madigan has promised to introduce a motion to halt public funding of abortions used for s-x selection purposes, despite admitting he has no evidence that s-x-selection abortion occurs in Australia. The practice is specifically prohibited in Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia, and National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines also warn against the practice.

Abortion for gender selection is considered a major problem in China and India; in some provinces in those countries in the last decade the ratio of male-to-female infants has reached over 1.2 to 1. However, there is little evidence that it is an issue in Western countries, although there have been claims that some minority communities still practise it.

Nonetheless, anti-abortion groups have used the issue to try to re-establish state bans on abortion. The issue has the added attraction that anti-abortion groups can pose as defenders of women in arguing for bans on “gendercide”. Madigan’s is only one of a number of efforts to place the issue on the agenda in Western countries.

Canadian MPs are scheduled later this month to debate a motion from a Conservative MP to condemn “discrimination against females occurring through s-x-selective pregnancy termination”. Like Madigan, the MP pushing the motion, Mark Warawa, admits he has no evidence that s-x-selection abortion occurs in Canada.

A fortnight ago, the upper house of Kansas’ legislature strongly supported a ban on s-x-selection abortion, backed by the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life; again, there is no evidence abortion to choose one gender over the other occurs in the state.

In May last year, Republicans in the US Congress sought to introduce a ban on s-x-selective abortions, while an anti-abortion group released a heavily edited video purporting to be of a woman seeking a s-x-selective abortion from a Planned Parenthood clinic. The bill (called PRENDA) failed, and the video was dismissed as a hoax.

“This might be one of the most disingenuous bills to ever to come to the floor of the House,” one Democratic congressman said. “This is not about women’s equality. PRENDA is simply another attempt by choice opponents to obstruct women’s access to reproductive healthcare.”

The Obama administration opposed the bill. While the bill prompted some debate about the extent of s-x-selective abortion in the US, there is little evidence it occurs on a widespread basis. A bill to ban it in Ohio was introduced in the state legislature in that state at the end of 2012.

One method of anti-abortion groups is to claim racial minorities practice s-x-selective abortion. In January, a UK anti-abortion House of Lords MP, Lord Alton, claimed evidence that Indian communities in the UK were practising it. S-x-selective abortion is already illegal in the UK, but the MP called for a “fundamental debate” about abortion.

The recurring pattern of legislative attempts to ban or voice disapproval of s-x-selective abortion — under the guise of protecting girls and women — despite a  lack of evidence of any widespread problem and existing prohibitions, illustrates how this is a confected issue of the anti-abortion lobby and the, almost invariably, old white men who back them (Warawa is 62, Alton is 61, Trent Franks who wrote PRENDA, is 55) to re-assert state limits on abortion rather than address an actual problem. Madigan is not different.

Peter Fray

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