Abortion rights are being screwed with yet again! The Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act seeks to criminalize abortions based on the race or the sex of the fetus. That might sound good to some people: supporters of the bill quickly point out how many female fetuses are aborted in China, where there is a one-child policy in most areas and a nationwide preference for boys. However, a closer look at the bill reveals that it’s yet another tricky-dick move by abortion opponents to restrict abortion rights and make life more difficult for abortion providers.
According to Rep. Trent Franks, the Republican from Arizona who sponsored the bill, the legislation would not penalize women for aborting because of the fetus’ race or sex — it would instead punish the abortion provider. When you think about it, what kind of sense does that make? If the goal of the bill is really about telling expectant mothers you cannot abort a fetus because some characteristic is undesirable to you, why should her doctor be punished? Anti-abortion activists will tell you that abortion providers discuss the reasons a woman is having an abortion before they terminate the pregnancy. But — duh — any woman who knew (hypothetically) aborting a fetus based on race or sex was illegal could easily lie about it to her doc. So, really, this bill is ultimately about making life more difficult for abortion providers overall and trying to find ways to catch them/trip them up so they have to stop performing abortions.
The PRENDA bill is offensive simply because it is attempting to restrict abortion rights. But it is particularly offensive for the way it masquerades as being “anti-racist” when the reality is that it only hassles (for reasons explained above) women of color, women who sleep with men of color and reproductive health care providers who serve them. As blogger Rachel Kwan put it on Ms. Magazine:
This bill would result in increased scrutiny of the reproductive decision-making of Black, Latina, and Asian/Pacific Islander women. It is an affront our rights to privacy, to bodily autonomy, and to mobilize in concert to create change and solidarity in our communities—based on our priorities and experiences, our visions for the future and our agency. … [PRENDA assumes] Black women are selfish, irresponsible, and incapable of making reproductive decisions on their own behalf. Second, [it assumes] that Asian women mindlessly reproduce “son preference” and bring “dangerous values” into the country.
Kwan also points out that women of color already have “structural barriers” to overcome regarding reproductive health and such a bill will only “exacerbate” them. I couldn’t have said it better.
And then there’s the name of the bill. Oh, hell’s bells, the name of the bill is great. The name “Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act” (PRENDA) is loaded with meaning for women and black people. Susan B. Anthony was a prominent suffragette, who died 14 years before women finally won the right to vote in 1920. Anti-abortion groups often invoke Susan B. Anthony’s name when they try to portray themselves as being feminist; an anti-abortion group called the Susan B. Anthony List even calls her an “outspoken critic of abortion.” (Alas, the facts don’t add up: scholars agree that Anthony’s writings on the subject of abortion — which was illegal and done in “back alleys” during her time, remember — were vague.) And then there’s Frederick Douglass, a former slave and a civil rights activist who became a consultant to Abraham Lincoln. Obviously slapping Douglass’ name on the PRENDA bill is a coded message to African-Americans, who have been hounded by anti-abortion protestors, that abortion is a genocidal plot. (Hey, at least this is more subtle than a billboard comparing legal abortion to slavery!)
We will all have to keep our eyes on this.
Contact the author of this post at Jessica@TheFrisky.com. Follow me on Twitter at @JessicaWakeman.
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