Abortion ban bill is a dangerous attack on women of color

Once again, anti-abortion politicians are attacking abortion rights for women of color through the so-called Prenatal Discrimination Act or PRENDA.

This new legislation, as with similar legislation introduced in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2013, is a blatant attempt to limit abortion access and is an affront to Black and Asian women. Since it was first proposed in 2008, it has served as a blueprint for states to introduce “race and sex selection” abortion bans. As of March 2016, eight states ban abortion for reasons of sex selection, one state prohibits abortion for reasons of race, and one state prohibits abortion when the fetus may have a genetic anomaly. All of these bans share common purpose and impact: to block those who need it from getting abortion care.

{mosads}The current federal bill purports to address racial and gender discrimination, but its real purpose is to chip away at abortion rights. The bill is especially punishing because of the precedent it would set. As it stands, federal law does not judge or interfere based on a woman’s reasons (real or perceived) for choosing abortion care. And it shouldn’t. No one besides a woman, her doctor, and her family know the unique circumstances of her life.

Politicians are not in a woman’s shoes. The truth is that a majority of Americans believe that a woman knows what is best for her and her family. Additionally, Black Americans trust Black women to make the important personal decisions that are best for themselves and their families when it comes to abortion.

Rather than supporting racial and gender equality, this bill decreases quality care for Black and Asian women by interfering with the relationship between doctors and their patients. Open, honest communication with one’s medical provider is critical to quality care.  This ban interferes with that trust. 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.

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. The inference of this and similarly written legislation is an affront to the many Black women, including Black women of faith, who choose and support access to safe and legal abortion as a necessary health care option for all women.

Similarly, the bill perpetuates the offensive stereotype that Asian American families do not value the lives of their girl children. While sex selection is an issue abroad, the U.S. is not China or India. In the U.S., researchers have found that this is not a widespread problem and in fact, Asian Americans are actually having more girls on average than white Americans.

Women of color already face difficulties accessing healthcare and experience poorer health outcomes than their white counterparts. Black women are more likely to die from preventable pregnancy-related causes than white women, and their unintended pregnancy rate is higher than any other ethnic or racial group.

Vietnamese women are five times more likely to die from cervical cancer than white women. High levels of poverty prevent Black and Asian American women from accessing healthcare every day. Unfortunately, PRENDA would make healthcare outcomes for women of color even worse.
Making abortion harder to get exacerbates racial disparities in healthcare. In short, you cannot give women rights by taking away our rights. Instead of combating racial and gender discrimination, PRENDA is nothing more than an attempt to limit abortion access for women of color. Under the guise of promoting equity, this bill perpetuates stereotypes about women of color and undermines our constitutional rights.

We believe that PRENDA is dangerous to the reproductive health and wellbeing of women of color. We expect Members of Congress to fight against such legislation and work to make our lives better – not worse.

Howell is the executive director of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda. Yeung is the executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum   

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