Republican Bill Exploits Concerns about Sexism and Racism to Undermine Abortion Rights

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky December 15, 2011
Biopolitical Times
An anti-abortion billboard, "corrected."
House Republicans held a hearing last week to promote their latest effort to undermine reproductive rights, the cynically named Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA).

The bill, which would prohibit doctors from performing abortions based on the sex or race of the fetus, is sponsored by Representative Trent Franks of Arizona, where a similar bill became law earlier this year. Franks openly acknowledges that PRENDA is part of a broader push to overturn abortion rights. “People will say I have a greater agenda – and they are right,” he told The Daily Caller.

Franks explains his sponsorship of the bill by citing statistics showing that African-American women account for a disproportionately high number of the abortions in America. As Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank points out, Franks “established his credentials as a civil rights leader last year when [he] argued that, because of high abortion rates in black communities, African Americans were better off under slavery.”

Among the witnesses testifying in favor of the bill at the House Judiciary Committee hearing was Stephen Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute. In Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, science writer Mara Hvistendahl documents Mosher’s pioneering suggestion in 2008 that sex selection, which a large majority of Americans reject, can be tactically deployed to weaken support for abortion rights. Mosher too is open about his motivations. In a copy of his testimony provided at the hearing, he concludes:
[S]ex selective abortion is a wedge issue that will divide and demoralize the pro-abortion movement even more than partial birth abortion debate did.  
Speaking against the bill was Miriam Yeung of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum. She characterized it [pdf] as "dangerous and duplicitous," and said:
Although this bill purports to support gender equity and civil rights, it does neither….The legislative priority of the committee members who dreamed up this legislation is to take away the rights of women and communities of color, not to help us.

Sujatha Jesudason, executive director of Generations Ahead, said [pdf] PRENDA does “not in any way address the serious and complex concerns raised by the practice of sex selection or racial health disparities” and Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called it [pdf] “nothing more than a disingenuous attempt to block access to abortion.”

Two letters signed by an array of racial justice, reproductive rights and justice, and other public interest groups, including the Center for Genetics and Society, were also prepared. One states:

[W]e are very concerned to see the fight against discrimination being misappropriated to push a bill that does nothing to combat sex and race discrimination, but instead imposes additional barriers on women in the United States. If passed, this bill would exacerbate health disparities.

The other sign-on letter makes a similar point:

This anti-choice measure dressed as an anti-discrimination bill is not a way to promote racial and gender equality. Instead, it further exacerbates inequities and diminishes the health, well-being, and dignity of women and girls by restricting their access to reproductive health care.

Franks introduced a previous version of PRENDA in 2008. That bill had 49 co-sponsors, but never reached the floor. This time around, the bill may get a full vote, but even if the House passes it, the Senate is unlikely to do so. Opponents of abortion rights are not deterred. With the Arizona success under their belts, they are looking to other state-based legislative efforts, and are clearly savoring the “wedge” value of the publicity thus generated.  

Previously on Biopolitical Times: