Credit: David Prahl /

RTÉ article on sex-selective abortions avoided the word ‘abortion’ almost entirely 

Today, RTÉ published an article revealing that almost 5 million babies will be aborted worldwide in the next decade simply because they are girls. 

Except the publicly-funded broadcaster did everything it could to avoid using the word abortion, since, in the groupthink that prevails in the Irish media, abortion is always a social good. The fact that disproportionate amounts of baby girls – and babies with disabilities – are aborted is something that so-called feminists and journalists would rather avoid.

When the numbers get too enormous, or the issue too pressing, the report will take on that strange shape when the elephant in the room is being studiously avoided.

So RTÉ tells us today that  “4.7 million fewer girls will be born worldwide in the next 10 years according to a new study” – and coyly adds says that this is because of “sex-selective practises in countries with a cultural preference for male offspring”.

See that? “Sex selective practises”. What could that be you ask? Ancient incantations to determine gender, or some other mysterious method of ensuring the baby is not a girl?

It’s abortion, obviously. According to the study (which RTÉ didn’t link to) skewed sex ratios at birth “due to sex-selective abortions have been observed in several countries since the 1970s”.

Clearly, in a bid to avoid any negative connotations with abortion, media outlets prefer to pretend this is not the case, using the frankly ridiculous “sex-selective practises” term instead, as if we can all pretend that abortion is not the mechanism by which all these missing baby girls have their lives ended.

RTÉ’s report uses the word abortion just once, in order to give some sense to the article, but the casual reader could be forgiven for thinking these baby girls were simply going to vanish into thin air.

They won’t, of course. They will be killed in their mother’s womb. Clearly, in these circumstances, abortion is not about empowering women but rather a tool used to eradicate their very lives before they get a chance to draw their first breath.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, says that “sex-selective abortions, the main mechanism behind sex selection, have been observed across a range of various countries from Southeast Europe to South and East Asia.”

The authors warn of a “hike in the sex ratio at birth” and of a “emergence of a surplus of male births”, and to the worrying surge that might occur in the phenomenon of “missing women” .

“A male-biased sex structure in a society could lead to demographic issues such as marriage squeeze with lack of marriageable females. Fewer-than-expected females in a population could result in elevated levels of antisocial behaviour and violence, and may ultimately affect long-term stability and social sustainable development,” they caution.

There’s plenty of hand-wringing about gender inequality and the need for education in the reporting around this study, but here’s a more obvious solution: if you want to tackle the horrifying projection of another 4.7 million fewer women because of ‘sex-selection practises’, then stop aborting babies because they are girls.

And stop pretending that abortion helps women. It doesn’t.

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