Criminal Law and Philosophy

, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 349–360 | Cite as

Why a Criminal Prohibition on Sex Selective Abortions Amounts to a Thought Crime

Original Paper


In a sex selective abortion, a woman aborts a fetus simply on account of the fetus’ sex. Her motivation or underlying reason for doing so may very well be sexist. She could be disposed to thinking that a female child is inferior to a male one. In a hate crime, an individual commits a crime on account of a victim’s sex, race, sexual orientation or the like. The individual may be sexist or racist in picking his victim. He or she could be disposed to thinking that one race or sex is inferior to another. I argue that while a prohibition on sex selective abortions is anomalous in a liberal, criminal legal framework, hate crime legislation may not be. The former but not the latter constitutes a thought crime. I define a thought crime as one where an agent’s motivation is not just relevant but sufficient to take an act from the domain of the non-punishable to the domain of the punishable. Ignoring a woman’s sexist motivation in procuring an abortion suddenly renders her act of abortion legal. On the other hand, discounting an agent’s bias in committing a hate motivated assault or murder does not transform the act from a punishable one to a non-punishable one. Assaulting or murdering is already a crime.


Sex selective abortions Hate crimes Thought crime 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GovernmentDartmouth CollegeHanoverUSA

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