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Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona
It's called PRENDA for short, the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act. But originally it was the Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act, disingenuously tying the two 19th Century icons together in support of the forced-birther cause.

Rep. Trent Franks, the Arizona Republican, has been pushing the bill since 2009, when it died in committee. This time around, with 98 co-sponsors, the bill will get a vote on the House floor Thursday after today's debate. Despite the fact that nearly every Republican and some anti-choice Democrats will say "aye," it won't pass because it's being considered under a suspension of the rules. Passage in such circumstances requires a two-thirds majority.

Under the bill's provisions, doctors would be subject to five years in prison for performing abortions done on the basis of race or because parents want a child of the other sex. Anyone who assists in such an abortion, such as transporting a woman to a clinic across state lines, would also be liable. In addition to criminal charges, a woman who has been forced to obtain an abortion for these purposes would be allowed to file a civil action, as would the father or a maternal grandparent.

From the beginning, the Republican sponsors have attempted to make PRENDA about civil rights and have pointed to the large numbers of abortions among African Americans as proof of an intent to curb the black population. That, in part, was what including the abolitionist Frederick Douglass in the bill's original name was about. Franks calls the matter "the civil rights struggle that will define our generation." On that subject, Loretta Ross, the national coordinator of SisterSong, an Atlanta-based reproductive justice organization for women of color, told Stephanie Mencimer:

"The most pernicious part was, they're trying to hijack the civil rights legacy in the service of conservative causes, trying to appropriate the mantle of the civil rights movement in a really despicable way. [...]

"It's kind of hard to find evidence that a black woman is going to have an abortion because she's surprised to find her baby is black. It just strains credulity to think that's a problem," [Ross] says with a hearty laugh. "I mean, she wakes up in the morning and says 'Oh my god! My baby's black?'"

SisterSong published an entire issue of its Collective Voices last summer devoted to the topic "Is Abortion Black Genocide?"

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, which cleared PRENDA in a 20-13 vote, objects on several grounds:

“The bill would require doctors to police their patients, undermining patient-doctor privilege,” Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) said in a statement. “It limits a woman’s right to choose and jeopardizes her access to safe, legal medical care.”

Conyers, ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, fought GOP attempts to name the bill after Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, arguing that doing so disrespected their legacies. Republicans said that the civil rights leaders would have backed the bill, but later relented and agreed to change its name.

That may have marginally improved its optics. But it did nothing to alter its content. The idea that abortion used for selecting the sex of a child constitutes a big problem in the United States is ludicrous and based on a single study of some Asian American communities regarding the sex of a family's third child.

Moreover, the Guttmacher Institute's analysis by Sneha Barot says PRENDA and laws like it passed in Oklahoma and Arizona (and in the works in 11 other states) would harm women's health in the very communities it is supposed to be helping. Barot says:

Rather than working to address the harmful social and cultural norms that lead to son preference and, as a result, sex-selective abortion, these proposals cynically advance a narrow agenda that starts and ends with banning abortion [...]

The vocal opposition of Asian women’s groups to these sex-selective abortion bans should give policymakers ample reason to reconsider the true agenda these laws are advancing. What’s more, sex-selective abortion bans that have been introduced at the federal and state levels are often paired with equally harmful race-selective abortions bans, which are portrayed as a response to higher abortion rates among minority women. Again, rather than addressing the serious underlying issues—including disparities in unintended pregnancy and other health outcomes, as well as broader social and economic inequities—these bans do nothing to help women, but are all about banning access to safe and legal abortion.

While there's little chance PRENDA will pass this time around, we know from past experience that Thursday's vote won't be the end of attempts to turn this into yet one more law dedicated to making a mockery of reproductive rights. Faced by an obstacle in their four-decade crusade, the forced-birthers have relentlessly sought a go-around, never letting defeat deter them from finding another means of pushing their agenda forward, inch by inch. While we should decry and resist their anti-women activism at every turn, progressives would do well to adopt their persistence in pursuit of our own agendas.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Wed May 30, 2012 at 09:18 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos, Abortion, and Pro Choice.

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