Today, after months of grandstanding and several Republican injuries due to hyperextension of their feigned sincerity muscles, the House of Representatives will vote on PRENDA — the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act. The bill's being considered under suspended rules, which means it's highly unlikely to pass, but that doesn't make the bill, which supporters contend addresses the problem of Americans who are sexist or racist against their own fetuses, any less sexist or racist.
Here's an abbreviated version of the debate, which happened yesterday. Bill sponsor, Arizona Republican Trent Franks (Mayor Franks if you're in DC!) pretended to be a feminist for several minutes, causing a blood vessel to pop in his left eye (not really). He laid out his reasoning for introducing the bill: baby girls! What about the women!? Sex selective abortion is awful! Therefore, let's punish doctors who knowingly perform sex-selective abortions with five years in prison and let women's husbands or parents interfere with her right to choose. Yeah! said the concurring Republicans, straining to keep straight faces, women's rights! "Woe to you if you vote against this bill," Cliff Stearns, a Florida Republican, actually fucking said.
Democrats were annoyed. Sex selective abortion isn't a problem in America. This law is just another attempt by Republicans to limit women's choices. How in God's slippery goodness is someone supposed to be racist against a fetus? Podiums were pounded. Notes thoughtfully shuffled. Another day, another big group of mostly dudes talking about what is best for women.
But the bill, for its bombastic moral aims (when it was introduced in committee, Franks called it the Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act, like either of those historical figures would want to be dragged into Franks' obnoxious attempt to bolster his anti-abortion rights credentials), is actually pretty sexist and definitely racist — husbands or parents of women can interfere with their wife or ward's abortion if they suspect that she may be terminating because of sexism or racism. And medical professionals who suspect that a woman may be aborting because of race or sex are required to report the woman to law enforcement — or risk being imprisoned for five years.
Miriam Yeung of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, is shocked by the bill's racism, specifically against the Asian-American community. She says that the bill is a "wolf in sheep's clothing," and that its real aim is to limit all women's rights, using Asian American women as boogeymen. And the language used by supporters of PRENDA is pretty nakedly racist sounding — they stop short of dropping any slurs or doing their best Mickey Rooney Breakfast at Tiffany's yellowface impression, but it's clear that the bill is intended to target Asian American woman. Franks even said so. The data shows that sex selection does occasionally happen in some subsets of the Asian American community, Yeung told me, but it's driven by a society that values boys and sees girls as a liability. The key to nipping American sex selection in the bud before it becomes a problem reflected in the population isn't forcing women to give birth; it's addressing underlying social issues and empowering girls. PRENDA will put Asian women under the microscope and endanger their access to medical care.
A recently published Guttmacher paper agrees, calling sex-selective abortion bans both "ineffective and unwise." Son preference, the sort of anti-girl bias that has parents in several Asian and Eastern Europeans to selectively abort or kill girl babies, exists because of "a variety of factors that continue to make males more socially and economically valuable than females." Thus, the key to preventing sex selective abortion is to change the underlying reasons that parents prefer sons.
So it's especially stupid that a bill that limits women's choices is masquerading as a bill that empowers or protects women; in fact, any bill that limits women's access to safe, affordable contraception, birth control, and abortion reduces women's social mobility and limits the economic value of girls. Basically, PRENDA's pro-woman pantomime could actually lead to social conditions that make America a shittier place for women and girls, which could in turn lead parents to prefer sons over daughters more than they already do.
And Franks' Gloria Steinem act is rich, too — he hasn't exactly been a champion of women's rights during his tenure in office. He voted in favor of the watered-down House version of the Violence Against Women Act, the act that excluded undocumented immigrant women he now says he's so desperate to protect. He cosponsored a 2009 bill that would have revoked all federal funding for schools that offered emergency contraception to students. He's in the conservative clique of lawmakers that has targeted Planned Parenthood's health services in lieu of offering any real economic solutions, and he's received a score of 0 from NARAL. To borrow and adapt a line from Kanye West, Trent Franks does not care about female people.
House Republicans have opted to bring the bill up to vote under suspension of normal rules, which means that a 2/3 majority is required for its passage. Some conservative Democrats might cross the aisle to support PRENDA, but more liberal members of Congress aren't so keen on it. And even if it does pass, the Democratic-controlled Senate is unlikely to push it to President Obama's desk. This was all elaborate political theater, a taxpayer time waste that anti-abortion rights Republicans will mine for campaign ad sound bites. And once again, your uterus has been used as a slimy, unwieldy bargaining chip.
Update: PRENDA failed in the house today, falling short of the 291 votes it needed to pass. Good riddance to bad rubbish.