We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

Success! You're on the list.

According to Slate‘s William Saletan, whose abortiony rhetorical stylings my colleagues and I have discussed at length, “Sixteen million girls are missing in China.”

Holy shit, China. How did you manage to lose all these little girls?! Prepare to send out the biggest fucking Amber alert of all time!

Oh wait, this is Saletan we’re talking about—-the reluctant pro-choice columnist of our time. That unbelievable lede that refers to real humans is actually about fetuses, right?

Yeah, yeah: We found ’em. Those sixteen million “girls” were actually, Saletan figures, fetuses terminated by Chinese parents who are only allowed one kid, but can have as many sex-specific abortions as they want. Don’t get me wrong—-I think it’s terrible that some parents, in all cultures, still value boys over girls. But the distinction between “girls” and “aborted fetuses” is an important one.

If Saletan wants to frame the question around live humans, he could just as easily have asserted that “there are too many actual human boys in China,” since it’s the sex disparity that’s ultimately causing the country problems. That’s a lot different than what he did say, which is, essentially: “There are too many female ghost fetuses in China.” The construction not only dips into far-right pro-life rhetoric—-counting the number of “murdered” children that could be our friends and neighbors today—-it isn’t totally accurate, either. After all, Chinese girls “disappear” through adoption, too. Boys go missing, too: Even without sex-selective abortion, the one-child-only rule will still necessitate the procedure.

Post-lede, Saletan’s piece actually handles the intricacies of China’s one-child policy, sex-selective abortion, and the boy surplus admirably. Saletan even rejoices in the fact that China has recognized that it is in the country’s own self-interest to limit sexist abortion—-though Saletan still “wishes this turnaround were being driven by a better motive.”

As I argued in last month’s Saletan-flavored Sexist Beatdown, I find Saletan’s forays into the fringes of the abortion debate interesting—-I just wish we didn’t always have to endure the dreaded “Saletan Curveball” in order to get to the good stuff.