Before the clock runs out on another Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, anti-choice legislators have decided to send the Asian American community home with a parting gift. This Wednesday, HR 3541, the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA) will be put to a vote in the House. PRENDA would ban abortions sought based on the sex of a fetus, threaten doctors with up to five years in prison for performing such a procedure, and even require doctors and nurses to report women whom they suspect are seeking an abortion for these reasons. While the bill is cloaked in the language of civil rights for women, this bill is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Rather than lifting the status of women, this bill is nothing more than another hypocritical attempt to ban abortions in this country – this time using Asian women as the excuse.
In my testimony at the subcommittee hearing on this bill in December, I referred to this bill as “PRENDA the pretenda.” The sponsors of this bill are using the guise of “ending discrimination against female babies,” which sounds like a good cause, in order to ban abortion for the very people it pretends to protect: Asian American women. We recognize that this is simply a particularly demeaning way for anti-choice legislators to limit abortion access.
The hypocrisy of the bills sponsors becomes even more clear when we look at their voting records. They have never supported the numerous measures that would improve the living conditions of women and people of color — like the Voting Rights Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and the Violence Against Women Act.
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Let me be clear. Sex selection, particularly in the international context, is a real concern, and skewed sex ratios in India, China, Vietnam, and even the country of Georgia are troubling. Domestically in the United States, we are not confronted by the same skewed sex ratios. However, we are well aware that gender inequality in the United States does exist, and that for some families, the desire to have a son – particularly in families who already have two or more daughters is very strong. NAPAWF, and our friends in the Asian American community are working hard to address the gender inequity in this country that contributes to son preference. But rather than truly addressing gender inequity, this bill, PRENDA the pretenda’ discriminates against our community.
Numerous international agencies have firmly stated that abortion bans are not a viable solution to the problem of sex selection. Not only have bans been unsuccessful in other countries, but they also would violate the human rights of women. Instead, governments should help alleviate the root cause of son preference and sex selection — gender inequity. It is because of gender inequity that some women feel pressured to have sons. This is especially true in countries where men are the breadwinners and legal inheritors of property. However, there are effective strategies available: in South Korea, skewed sex ratios at birth began to level out as the country developed economically, property laws were changed, and a “Love Your Daughter” media campaign was launched.
Asian American women’s organizations are already doing the work to raise the status of women in the United States. We work hard every day to end domestic violence and sexual assault, build women’s economic power, and eradicate gender stereotyping. If H.R.3541 sponsors truly wanted to help women, they would start by following our lead, not by enacting a paternalistic and misguided law that would do more harm than good.
Asian American women already face grave health disparities and barriers to health access. Nearly 18 percent of Asian Americans and 24 percent of Native Hawaiians are uninsured while only 12 percent of the non-Hispanic, non-elderly white population is without insurance. Over 29 percent of Asian American and Pacific Islander women have not had a mammogram for the past two years, and over 24 percent have not had a Pap Test in three years. We do not need another obstacle. This bill exacerbates disparities by further restricting access to comprehensive health care services and penalizing health care providers who serve women from our community.
H.R. 3541 is an attack on women in our community and we are speaking out. We will not be used as a weapon in the war on women.