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PRENDA 'undermines constitutional rights' of black, Asian American women, op-ed states

"Once again, [antiabortion-rights] politicians are attacking abortion rights for women of color through the so-called Prenatal [Nond]iscrimination Act" (PRENDA) (S 48), write Marcela Howell, executive director of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women's Reproductive Justice Agenda, and Miriam Yeung, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, in an opinion piece for The Hill's "Congress Blog."

According to Howell and Yeung, PRENDA "is a blatant attempt to limit abortion access and is an affront to Black and Asian women." They write, "Since it was first proposed in 2008, it has served as a blueprint for states to introduce 'race and sex selection' abortion bans." They note that as of last month, eight states ban abortion sought because of the sex of the fetus, "one state prohibits abortion for reasons of race, and one state prohibits abortion when the fetus may have a genetic anomaly." Regardless of the type of ban, each "share[s] common purpose and impact: to block those who need it from getting abortion care," Howell and Yeung write.

Similarly, they explain that while PRENDA "purports to address racial and gender discrimination, ... its real purpose is to chip away at abortion rights." The measure "is especially punishing because of the precedent it would set," the authors write, noting that current "federal law does not judge or interfere based on a woman's reasons (real or perceived) for choosing abortion care. And it shouldn't."

Howell and Yeung cite research showing that most "Americans believe that a woman knows what is best for her and her family" and that most black U.S. residents "trust Black women to make the important personal decisions that are best for themselves and their families when it comes to abortion." In contrast, "rather than supporting racial and gender equality, this bill decreases quality care for Black and Asian women by interfering with the relationship between doctors and their patients," they write. According to the authors, "If this bill passes, doctors will be forced to act as police interrogators in the exam room. No woman should ever be scrutinized based on her racial and ethnic background, but this is exactly what these bans encourage."

For example, the authors note that the bill "perpetuates hurtful racial stereotypes about Black women" by implying that black "women are incapable of making 'right' and 'sound moral' decisions about their reproductive health." Moreover, "the bill perpetuates the offensive stereotype that Asian American families do not value the lives of their girl children," Howell and Yeung write, despite research showing that abortions based on the sex of the fetus are "not a widespread problem [in the United States] and in fact, Asian Americans are actually having more girls on average than white Americans."

According to Howell and Yeung, "Women of color already face difficulties accessing healthcare and experience poorer health outcomes than their white counterparts." They note that "Black women are more likely to die from preventable pregnancy-related causes than white women, and their unintended pregnancy rate is higher than any other ethnic or racial group," while "Vietnamese[-American] women are five times more likely to die from cervical cancer than white women." In addition, both black and Asian American women are prevented "from accessing healthcare every day" because of high poverty rates, the authors write.

"Unfortunately, PRENDA would make healthcare outcomes for women of color even worse," Howell and Yeung state, noting that limiting access to abortion care "exacerbates racial disparities in healthcare." They write, "In short, you cannot give women rights by taking away our rights. Instead of combating racial and gender discrimination, PRENDA is nothing more than an attempt to limit abortion access for women of color. Under the guise of promoting equity, this bill perpetuates stereotypes about women of color and undermines our constitutional rights" (Howell/Yeung, "Congress Blog," The Hill, 4/14).