House Considers Bill that Stigmatizes Women of Color In Order To Restrict Abortion Access

The House Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, chaired by Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ), is holding hearings today on the so-called Prenatal Discrimination Act (PRENDA), a underhanded attempt to restrict access to abortion by attacking women of color.

Although the measure cynically claims to be an anti race- and sex-discrimination bill, PRENDA criminalizes abortion providers, interferes with the doctor-patient relationship, and exacerbates barriers to healthcare for women.

Reproductive justice advocates have decried PRENDA as harmful and based on derogatory stereotypes about women of color. In an op/ed on Thursday, Marcella Howell, the Executive Director of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, and Miriam Yeung, Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), called the bill “an affront to Black and Asian women” whose motivation for obtaining an abortion would automatically be considered suspect. They explain, “If this bill passes, doctors will be forced to act as police interrogators in the exam room. No woman should ever be scrutinized based on her racial and ethnic background, but this is exactly what these bans encourage.”

According to Howell and Yeung, “This legislation perpetuates hurtful racial stereotypes about Black women. The implication is that Black women are incapable of making ‘right’ and ‘sound moral’ decisions about their reproductive health.” In addition, they continue, “the bill perpetuates the offensive stereotype that Asian American families do not value the lives of their girl children,” noting that “in the U.S., researchers have found that [sex-selection abortion] is not a widespread problem and in fact, Asian Americans are actually having more girls on average than white Americans.”

At the hearing, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI) blasted the bill as having “nothing to do with civil rights,” calling it “the latest attempt to erode the constitutional right to abortion.”

Other civil rights leaders agree. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, made up of over 200 national civil rights organizations has strongly opposed PRENDA. In a letter to the House Subcommittee, Wade Henderson, President of the Leadership Conference, wrote that the bill is “a veiled attempt to restrict health care for women of color under the guise of civil rights.” Henderson does note that “the problem of racial and sex disparities in health care is real,” pointing out that women of color have less access to contraceptives, prenatal care, and other reproductive health services, but, he continues, ” PRENDA does nothing to address the causes or pernicious effects of such discrimination.”

Federal legislation similar to PRENDA has been introduced before and been defeated, but as of March 2016, 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.

Miriam Yeung summed up the bill in an interview with Bustle as “a hypocritical attempt to restrict women’s rights while claiming to fight sexism and racism.” She continued, “You cannot give women rights by taking them away, and that it fundamentally the flawed logic behind this bill. It’s a bad policy solution in search of a non-existent problem.”

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