Commentary Abortion

“PRENDA the Pretenda:” H.R. 3541 Is An Attack on Asian American Women, and We Know It

Miriam Yeung

The sponsors of H.R. 3541are 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.

See all our coverage of the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA) here and all our coverage of sex selection here.

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.

News Law and Policy

Congressional Testimony: Anti-Choice Measure Would Turn People of Color Into ‘Suspects in the Exam Room’

Kanya D’Almeida

All of the letter’s 56 signatories are people of color who have had abortions. They say the bill would force providers to interrogate patients’ reasons for seeking care and “erect a political divide” between patients and their physicians.

Dozens of people of color sent a letter to Congress Thursday expressing outrage over the introduction of the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA) of 2016 (HR 4924), which they say threatens the future of abortion care and codifies dangerous racist and sexist stereotypes against Asian American and Pacific Islanders, Black people, and Latinas.

Introduced by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, the bill seeks to impose criminal penalties on providers who perform abortions knowing that they are sought on the basis of the fetus’ race or sex.

It also seeks to criminalize anyone who coerces a person into seeking a race- or sex-selective abortion; anyone who raises funds for the procedure; or anyone who transports a woman into the United States or across state lines to obtain the abortion—and imposes a penalty ranging from a fine to a five-year prison term.

Cloaked in the language of “nondiscrimination,” the act would achieve the opposite goal, the letter says, by singling out women of color for additional scrutiny based on, among other things, the “gross mischaracterization” of Asian-American communities, in particular, as having a preference for male over female children.

This assumption, referred to in the bill as “son preference,” has no medical or empirical basis—as the letter points out, and as research has shown, birth sex ratios indicate that Asian American and Pacific Islander communities are having more girls on average than their white counterparts.

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All of the letter’s 56 signatories are people of color who have had abortions. They say the bill would force providers to interrogate patients’ reasons for seeking care and “erect a political divide” between patients and their physicians, essentially transforming abortion seekers of color into “suspects in the exam room.”

Signatories say they are deeply troubled by the bill’s racist language, which came to the fore at a recent House hearing during which anti-choice activists and other witnesses evoked a history of eugenics by way of supporting the bill, essentially equating women who choose abortion care to slave owners and white supremacists.

“Several people of color—including immigrant folks, queer folks, and Black folks—walked out of that hearing feeling disgusted by the way terrible stereotypes were used to twist our history, and then put into the congressional record,” Renee Bracey Sherman, one of the original drafters of the letter, said in an interview with Rewire.

“It was so deeply offensive to have to sit there and listen to people like Catherine Davis [of the anti-choice National Black Pro-Life Coalition] invoke the names of Black civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), saying, ‘They did not march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge so that Black women could have abortions.’”

She pointed out that King was a strong supporter of family planning, while Lewis has been an outspoken proponent of reproductive justice and abortion rights.

Bracey Sherman also said she was disturbed by the fact that Alveda King, a prominent figure in the anti-choice movement, was allowed to submit her testimony in a letter to Congress.

“I kept thinking, She doesn’t speak for me,” Bracey Sherman told Rewire. “I didn’t want her words to be the only ones representing people of color who’ve had abortions, because the overwhelming majority of us don’t regret our choices. I felt that we needed a voice too, we needed our testimony to be heard.”

Bracey Sherman, together with Kristine Kippins, who is the federal policy counsel for the U.S. Policy and Advocacy Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Shivana Jorawar spent the weekend drafting the letter.

“This letter was very personal for me as a Black woman who has had an abortion,” Kippins told Rewire in a phone interview. “I’d never publicly said that I’d had an abortion, and this has really compelled me to speak out.”

She recalled the moment in last week’s hearing when Chairman Franks repeatedly silenced Miriam Yeung, the executive director of National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum and the only pro-choice witness at the hearing.

“At one point Yeung said very quietly, ‘Black women choose abortion,’” Kippins said. “And I realized, she was talking about me. So I felt I had to stand up and say, ‘Yes, I am one of those women, I chose abortion and it was the best possible thing for me. I need people to trust me, and women like me, to make those decisions for ourselves,’” she added.

Her words echo the efforts of reproductive justice advocates like those in the Trust Black Women Partnership who have long fought to assert Black women’s bodily autonomy and push back against a wave of discriminatory laws that directly target or disproportionately impact Black women. These include a recent rash of anti-choice laws that impose medically unnecessary safety regulations on providers and force women to delay care by insisting on multiple medical appointments.

“If legislators actually care about women’s health they should work towards making abortion available to our community. They should vote the Women’s Health Protection Act, and the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act into law,” Kippins stated.

“We need access to housing, job opportunities, education for the children we already have. Lawmakers need to stop wasting our time and taxpayers’ money with bills like this and start addressing the civil rights and economic needs of the Black community and our Asian and Latina sisters and brothers,” she said.

Race- and sex-selective abortion is not a widespread occurrence in the United States, but anti-choice groups and lawmakers have cited isolated studies claiming to document the practice occurring in immigrant communities as a way to push anti-abortion legislation in the past.

Drafters of the letter say the current proposed act echoes these same cultural and racial stereotypes, and represents a blatant attempt to control women’s bodies.

“As an Indo-Caribbean woman, I can think for myself—I don’t need oversight from misogynist and paternalist politicians,” Shivana Jorawar said in a phone interview with Rewire.

Jorawar had her abortion when she was in high school. She was 15 years old at the time, harboring dreams of becoming a lawyer and making her family proud.

“My parents were immigrants from Guyana. They came here with almost nothing to their name, and access to education was really an important part of their American dream,” Jorawar explained, adding that they sacrificed almost everything they had to pay for tuition and send her to the best possible schools, working minimum-wage jobs around the clock to do so.

“They uprooted themselves and crossed borders and oceans to get to this strange land only to be greeted by discrimination. So to me, in that moment when I found out I was pregnant, I just felt I could not let my family down by ruining my chances at academic success,” Jorawar said.

She had the abortion and went on to become the first lawyer in her family.

“Every time I see my parents beaming with pride when they introduce me to new people and say ‘My daughter is a lawyer,’ or every time a young woman in my community comes to me for mentorship, I’m reminded that I made the right decision for my life,” she told Rewire.

“So this suggestion that we can’t make our own decisions, that we are not people capable of having a vision for our lives, is just incredibly insulting and it needs to stop,” she said.

News Politics

House Hearing Becomes Forum for Anti-Choice Misinformation Campaign

Christine Grimaldi

Miriam Yeung, the only pro-choice witness at the hearing, said that the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2016 “perpetuates the offensive stereotype that Black women are unable to make reproductive health decisions for their own families.”

A U.S. House of Representatives committee hearing on legislation that seeks to ban sex- and race-selective abortion care devolved into disorder Thursday as the Republican chairman spoke over the panel’s only pro-choice witness and an anti-choice witness got into a shouting match with an audience member.

“This is my time,” Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, said as Miriam Yeung, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, tried to speak at the end of Thursday’s hearing.

“I guess the real question here is: Does abortion really kill a little child?” Franks said. “If it doesn’t, then I’m through talking about it, but if it does, then those of us in this room, whether we know it or not, are standing in the midst of the greatest human genocide in the history of humanity.”

As Franks proposed the “real question,” Yeung’s response could be heard: “What is the role of women in this conversation?”

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“Black women are not the genocidal actors,” Yeung added, as Franks continued speaking over her. “You’re accusing Black women of murdering their own people.”

“You think that somehow that it’s OK to take the life of a little girl because she’s a little girl instead of a little boy? If that’s your position, I think it speaks for itself,” Franks said, concluding the hearing.

Franks convened the subcommittee to consider his Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA) of 2016 (HR 4924). Similar bills have been introduced in Congress: A comparable version (S. 48), sponsored by Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), is pending in the U.S. Senate.

As written in past bills, legislation of this kind would impose criminal penalties on anyone who knowingly attempts to perform an abortion, aware that the procedure is sought based on the sex of the fetus; uses force or the threat of force to intentionally injure or intimidate any person for the purpose of coercing a sex-selection abortion; solicits or accepts funds for the performance of such an abortion; or transports a patient into the United States or across a state line for the purpose of obtaining such an abortion.

Franks’ bill would ban sex- and race-selective abortions, while Vitter’s bill targets “sex or gender”-selective abortions.

There are no studies proving sex-selective or race-selective abortions are widespread in the United States. Proponents of anti-choice measures like these often justify them by using stereotypes that target women of color.

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), the ranking member of the subcommittee, and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the ranking member of the full House Judiciary Committee, slammed Franks’ bill during opening statements.

Franks opened the hearing with misleading allegations about Black women and abortion, charging that abortion care was the leading “cause of death” for Black people in the United States. “We have overlooked unborn children and that life itself is the most foundational of all civil rights,” he said.

Conyers took on those claims and shifted the focus to the disparities in reproductive care between Black and white communities. “Rather than addressing these disparities, the bill only reinforces them with its criminal penalties, which will create a chilling effect on doctors serving these communities,” he said.

After an extended recess for House votes, the committee reconvened with Franks, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) of the subcommittee, and Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) of the full committee. The National Black Pro-Life Coalition’s Catherine Davis, the Charlotte Lozier Institute’s Anna Higgins, and the Center for Urban Renewal and Education’s Rev. Derek McCoy testified in support of the anti-choice bill.

Yeung, the only pro-choice witness at the hearing, said that PRENDA “perpetuates the offensive stereotype that Black women are unable to make reproductive health decisions for their own families.”

“This legislation also perpetuates the offensive stereotype that Asian-American families do not value the lives of their girl children, while also not addressing the issue of sex-selection by ignoring substantive policy to alleviate the root causes of son preference or gender inequity,” she added.

Chu, who is Asian-American and chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said she took similar offense to such implications.

“I am just astounded that this bill would force a doctor to make a decision about whether a woman is using race selection or sex selection,” she said.

Franks intended the National Black Pro-Life Coalition’s Davis to close out the hearing—that is, until Yeung attempted to offer her objections to allegations Davis made during her testimony about Planned Parenthood targeting people of color by selling fetal tissue. An independent third party has disproved the heavily edited Center for Medical Progress (CMP) videos that claimed Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue for profit.

A Texas grand jury in January indicted David Daleiden, the head of CMP, on a felony charge. This month, California Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office reportedly executed a search of Daleiden’s home in connection with an investigation into whether the anti-choice activist violated California law when he and associates surreptitiously recorded abortion providers in the state.

After Franks spoke over Yeung and adjourned the hearing, Davis got into a brief but heated verbal altercation with Renee Bracey Sherman, a writer and reproductive justice advocate who has written for Rewire. Bracey Sherman referenced her abortion story, which prompted Davis to say, without further clarification, that she is “post-abortive” herself.

“You can’t tell me that Planned Parenthood’s targeting of the Black community is somehow helping Black women,” Davis continued.

Bracey Sherman pressed her to present research that shows otherwise.

“Do you know how many times I’ve gone to Planned Parenthood? When is the last time you’ve been in a Planned Parenthood?” Bracey Sherman said. “Seriously. Try it. Go there.”

Franks briefly paused to observe the melee as he was leaving the hearing before walking out of the room.