How the U.S. Imposed Sterilization and Abortion on its Korean "Ally"
Foreign Policy's Mara Hvistendahl's much-discussed piece about how "Western money and advice really did help fuel the explosion of sex selection in Asia" — Where Have All the Girls Gone? — got The Marmot Hole's Robert Koehler's attention — US role in Korea’s gender imbalance? "Frankly, this is quite shocking," he says of this excerpt:
- In South Korea, Western money enabled the creation of a fleet of mobile clinics — reconditioned U.S. Army ambulances donated by USAID and staffed by poorly trained workers and volunteers. Fieldworkers employed by the health ministry’s Bureau of Public Health were paid based on how many people they brought in for sterilizations and intrauterine device insertions, and some allege Korea’s mobile clinics later became the site of abortions as well. By the 1970s, recalls gynecologist Cho Young-youl, who was a medical student at the time, “there were agents going around the countryside to small towns and bringing women into the [mobile] clinics. That counted toward their pay. They brought the women regardless of whether they were pregnant.” Non-pregnant women were sterilized. A pregnant woman met a worse fate, Cho says: “The agent would have her abort and then undergo tubal ligation.” As Korea’s abortion rate skyrocketed, Sung-bong Hong and Christopher Tietze detailed its rise in the Population Council journal Studies in Family Planning. By 1977, they determined, doctors in Seoul were performing 2.75 abortions for every birth — the highest documented abortion rate in human history. Were it not for this history, Korean sociologist Heeran Chun recently told me, “I don’t think sex-selective abortion would have become so popular.”