Bill Banning Gender, Race-Based Abortions Debated on the Hill

WASHINGTON – Congressman Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) attempted to lead House members in a fight against gender and race-motivated abortion, but met resistance among sex selection opponents seeking to protect abortion rights.

Franks chaired a house hearing Tuesday to raise support of his bill, the Susan B. Anthony and Fredrick Douglas Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PreNDA). The bill seeks to make abortions motivated by the sex or race of the baby illegal.

"Sex-selection and race-selection abortions trivialize the value of the unborn on the basis of sex or race, reinforcing sex and race discrimination, and coarsening society to the humanity of all vulnerable and innocent human life, making it increasingly difficult to protect such life," the measure states.

Franks said the bill is necessary because data shows that selective abortion is happening in the United States and the victims are overwhelmingly female. Only three states ban the practice.

“A study published in the April 2008 Journal of the National Academy of Sciences shows through U.S. Census data that certain segments of the U.S. population – particularly those coming from countries that practice sex-selection abortion – have unnaturally skewed sex-ratios at birth caused by sex-selection ‘most likely at the prenatal stages,’” Franks wrote in a letter.

Franks also cited a Zogby poll showing that most Americans (86 percent) favor a complete ban on sex-selection abortion.

The issue even has audiences among some pro-choice groups such as Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice, Generations Ahead and National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum all of which vocally oppose the intentional elimination of baby girls around the globe.

The three groups collaborated to publish a report, titled “Taking a Stand: Tools for Action on Sex Selection,” and educating lawmakers about the issue.

The report defines sex selection as the practice of utilizing medical technology such as sonograms and 3-D imaging to have a child of the preferred sex and confirms that the sex selection is occurring in the United States in Asian-American communities and other communities as well. The report also chides U.S. reproductive rights groups for hesitating to stand up publicly on the issue.

However, NAPAWF Executive Director Miriam Yeung gave opposing testimony against PreNDA. She told lawmakers, “I believe this legislation would hurt women, particularly women of color” and called the bill “a thinly veiled attempt to limit abortion access for women of color” in her written testimony.

In her testimony, she noted that "numerous women’s rights, civil rights, racial justice, Asian and Pacific Islander (API), and human rights leaders" also oppose the bill.

Though the NAPAWF and other pro-choice groups support action against sex and race selection, the “Take a Stand” report shows they regard alignment with pro-life legislators and faith-based pro-life groups as a “political dilemma” that should be avoided.

Yeung avoided such a dilemma by praising a women’s right to reproductive choice in the Tuesday hearing and urging lawmakers to turn their attention to the abnormally high rates of low-self-esteem, Hepatitis C and breast cancer rates among Asian women and girls.

Pro-choice groups have also noted that “pre-pregnancy methods account for only a small percentage of sex-selection in the United States.”

Yet the “Take a Stand” report also acknowledged that “there are no official data on the frequency of pre-and post-pregnancy sex-selection in United States and those who undergo it are often reluctant to discuss it publicly.”

Addressing pro-choice supporters’ insistence on advocating against sex selection while protecting abortion, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said, “The pro-abortion ideology is so extreme that any opposition to the targeting of girls by sex-selection abortion is undermined by the movement’s enthusiasm for unfettered abortion rights.”

Despite pro-choice resistance, Franks said the 2011 PreNDA bill, named after a leading feminist and civil rights hero, has bipartisan support. Still, it is unclear whether the bill will ultimately become law. Franks unsuccessfully introduced a similar PreNDA bill in 2009.

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