New America Media, Commentary, Jessica González-Rojas and Miriam Yeung, Posted: Feb 24, 2012
As members of immigrant families, as women of color, and as mothers ourselves, we were appalled when the United States House of Representatives introduced HR 3541 late last year. This legislation, which could come to a floor vote soon, cloaks itself in the language and names of civil rights heroes, but is in fact a duplicitous attack on the health, dignity, and human rights of all women of color, including immigrant women.
When Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ) introduced the “Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act” (better known as PRENDA) late last year, civil and women’s rights advocates were left scratching our heads. A quick analysis of the bill made it clear that this legislation, which purports to ban “race- and sex-selection abortion,” would limit a woman’s access to safe abortion care, punish providers for a woman’s perceived race and motivations, and perpetuate harmful stereotypes about Asian and Pacific Islander (API) women, Latinas, and African-American women.
To understand this bill, it’s important to separate the two major components at play. First, the bill would ban something the sponsor calls “race-selective abortion” by punishing providers with fines and jail time. This ban relies on the insulting and plainly false assertion that when it comes to reproductive health, a woman of color is not willing or able to make the best decision for herself and her family. PRENDA would force abortion providers to racially profile their patients and interrogate them to determine subjective motivations behind the decision to end a pregnancy.
Secondly, this bill would ban “sex-selective abortion.” This portion of the bill exploits son preference, a symptom of gender inequity that is prevalent in countries like China and India. Women who appear to be from these countries and their providers would face the same intrusive process Latina and African-American women would—a provider would be expected to read a woman’s mind before performing an abortion or risk possible jail time. As international experts have said, the real problem is gender inequity, a pressing issue bans like this do nothing to address.
Immigrant woman would be especially hard hit by this law. Instead of addressing racial inequalities or gender discrimination, this bill relies on the harmful assumptions that Latinas and African-American women are unfit to make parental decisions and that API women practice “backward” traditions. We reject these racist assumptions because we know that women are the backbone of immigrant communities and provide invaluable love, care, and support to their daughters and sons, mothers and fathers, and other members of their extended families. All women, including women of color, have the right to control the number and spacing of their children.
We also know that immigrant women already face numerous barriers to accessing health care of any kind, including reproductive health care and abortion, and this ban would make an already difficult situation far worse. For Latinas or API women immigrants with limited English proficiency, a simple misunderstanding with a provider who doesn’t speak the patient’s language could result in denial of care. An immigrant woman who is a migrant worker, lives in a rural community, or lacks transportation may only have access to one abortion provider, if any, and only for a limited time. Burdening providers will only widen the disparities our communities face in obtaining care.
This bill is an attack on health, dignity, and justice for immigrant woman and indeed all women, thinly—and offensively—cloaked in the language of civil rights. Rather than improving the lives and status of women and people of color, this bill would simply make it harder for a woman to access safe, legal abortion care. More than 60 percent of women who obtain an abortion already have at least one child, and these mothers and their children suffer when they are denied the health care they need.
We urge Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ) and the other proponents of PRENDA to abandon this disingenuous and dangerous bill, and instead join true civil rights leaders in Congress in passing legislation that would help our communities and empower women of color to make the decisions that are best for their families. Immigrant women face disparities in health care access and outcomes, low wages and unfair working conditions, and a lack of culturally and linguistically competent service and health providers.
If the policymakers behind PRENDA truly wish to advance an agenda that Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass could support, they will advocate for greater access to health care, comprehensive immigration reform, and economic and educational opportunities for our communities.
We are happy to help them so do. We’ll be waiting for their phone calls.
Jessica González-Rojas is Executive Director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH). Miriam Yeung is Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF). NAPAWF and NLIRH are Steering Committee members of the National Coalition for Immigrant Women’s Rights (NCIWR).