By Sujatha Jesudason
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
A congressional bill to ban sex-selective abortions and those based on race--the so-called PRENDA bill--poses as a defender of gender equity and racial justice. Sujatha Jesudason says its real effect would be to undermine both.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Many people are uncomfortable with the idea of abortion for sex selection, because of the underlying assumptions and stereotypes that lead to valuing a child more because of his or her sex.
Generations Ahead, based in Oakland, Calif., is unique among pro-choice and reproductive health organizations. We discourage son preference and sex-selective practices while advocating for reproductive autonomy, including access to comprehensive health care and abortion, particularly for low-income women and women of color.
We strongly denounce a bill that came before a congressional hearing last week: H.R. 3541 the Prenatal NonDiscrimination Act, or PRENDA.
PRENDA would ban abortions performed because of the race or sex of the fetus. The bill poses as a defender of gender equity and racial justice. But it is nothing of the sort. The bill will in fact have the effect of undermining a woman's ability to make decisions about her own reproductive health. And despite the sponsors' claim that the bill would fight racism, it makes women of color – particularly African American and Asian American women – the targets of racial profiling by providers who risk criminal punishment under the law.
PRENDA--supported by such anti-choice groups as Susan B. Anthony and Culture War Victory Fund--does nothing to change son preference or fight racism. It does not in any way address the serious and complex concerns raised by the practice of sex selection or racial health disparities. African American women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women and their unintended pregnancy rate is 67 percent compared to 40 percent for white women.
This bill means one thing for every woman: the most intrusive scrutiny of the reason she seeks an abortion. And restricting women's rights and questioning their decision-making is an utterly misguided approach to promoting gender equality.
Our real challenge is to change the context in which sex selection occurs, addressing gender and racial equality issues while protecting the right of all women to make the best reproductive decisions for themselves and their families.
Some data show sex selection is occurring in the United States. The studies focus on Asian immigrant communities. In recent Generations Ahead research with South Asian American community members in the San Francisco Bay area, few participants reported knowing of cases of sex selection using abortion or other reproductive technology. What did trouble them was the widespread cultural preference for sons that they frequently experienced.
The South Asian American women in our study do not want to see legal restrictions. They firmly believe that the way to address the problem of son preference is to change social and cultural norms through community education and discussions. Restricting access to the different sex selective practices would not resolve the social and cultural roots of the practice.
In other countries, it should also be noted, bans have not worked as a way to stop son preference.
We believe the use of sex selective technologies reflects gender stereotypes that limit human potential, reinforcing unfortunate social and cultural norms. Changing that begins by encouraging prospective parents to question their own assumptions and expectations of their sons and daughters alike.
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Sujatha Jesudason is executive director of Generations Ahead, based in Oakland, Calif., which works with reproductive health, rights and justice organizations to ensure a social justice approach to reproductive genetic technologies. Generations Ahead works to discourage son preference norms that lead to sex selective practices through partnerships and engagement with South Asian American and Asian American community groups as well as health care providers, including fertility doctors.
NARAL calls it a race- and sex-based attack on choice: