Politics Reproductive Rights

56 People of Color Testify Against Abortion Ban Built on Racist and Sexist Stereotypes

Declaring, “we will not sit silently while we are exploited for the passage of yet another abortion restriction,” 56 people of color submitted written testimony to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice in opposition to the so-called Prenatal Discrimination Act (PRENDA).

“We are people of color who have had abortions. We made the best decisions for us and our circumstances,” the letter reads. “We should be trusted to make decisions for ourselves, free from political interference, stigma, paternalism, and racism.”

The group of individuals sent the letter, submitted as collective testimony, to the House Subcommittee in response to its April 14 hearing on PRENDA. The bill, which cynically claims to be an anti race- and sex- discrimination measure, would criminalize abortion providers, interfere with the doctor-patient relationship, and exacerbate barriers to healthcare for people of color.

The bill would require health care providers to question patients to determine whether the choice to have an abortion was based on race or sex, and ban abortions based on sex and/or race preference. But according to Miriam Yeung, Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), the bill is a “bad policy solution in search of a non-existent problem,” and reproductive justice advocates have charged that the bill is based solely on racist and sexist stereotypes.

The bill purports to address a preference for male children in the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities; however opinion polling from the National Asian American Survey shows no preference for either sons or daughters among these communities. Similarly, the bill targets African Americans, claiming that “abortion is the leading cause of death in the Black community,” a claim often echoed in Latin@ communities.

“It is offensive that politicians and the hearing witnesses used this bill as a vehicle to make derogatory claims that Black women would intentionally harm our families based on race, and allowed witnesses to equate us to slave owners and White supremacists,” the group of 56 wrote, noting that a hearing witness attempted to use the legacy of civil rights leaders, including Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), to make their claims. Lewis is a co-sponsor of the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act and the Women’s Health Protection Act, bills that would expand abortion access, especially for low-income individuals and people of color.

“There is no basis for this bill and it seeks only to erect a political divide between us and the compassionate clinicians who provide our abortion care. In reality, this bill would force abortion providers to interrogate our reasons for having an abortion, rather than supporting us in accessing the health care that’s safe and best for our lives,” the letter reads. “Racial profiling is not an American value, and this bill would legitimize and set a dangerous standards in the practice in health care.”

Instead of exploiting race and gender discrimination to push an anti-abortion agenda, Congress should “introduce legislation addressing unemployment, health care disparities such as the high rates of maternal health and infant mortality, and… ensure that public assistance programs are fully funded to nourish the families we are raising,” the group states.

Civil rights leaders have strongly opposed PRENDA, and federal legislation similar to PRENDA has been introduced and defeated in the past. Still, seven states ban abortion for “sex-selection,” and one state bans “race-selection.” These bills do not prevent gender-discrimination, according to the Guttmacher Institute, but do promote stigmatization of women of color.