A bill that would outlaw race- and sex-selective abortions in Georgia passed committee late Wednesday. Regardless of your political persuasion, you might think this a good thing: Who wants women terminating pregnancies based purely on the fetus' race or sex? Well, tear away the measure's attractive anti-discrimination packaging, and you'll find a calculated assault on women's -- particularly black women's -- reproductive rights.
The Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act would make it illegal to "solicit," "coerce" or perform abortions "based in any way on account of the race, color, or sex of the unborn child or the race or color of either parent of that child." In other words: It would make it illegal for women to terminate a pregnancy based on the race or sex of their fetus, and it would outlaw anyone, namely medical providers, from persuading women to abort based on the race or sex of their fetus. In either case, though, doctors would be the ones punished, potentially serving up to ten years in prison if found guilty.
Roger Evans, Planned Parenthood's senior director for litigation and law, told me over the phone that his main objection is to "the notion that the government has a role in deciding what are fair reasons and unfair reasons for a woman to have an abortion." First it's race and sex -- but what next? On a more practical level, though, the bill "makes it exceedingly difficult for physicians or counselors to talk with women who have concerns or ambivalence about what to do," he explains. "If [the patient] mentions the prohibited subject, it puts doctors in the position of saying, 'I can't talk to you about what you're thinking'" -- not to mention the position of refusing to perform an abortion on that patient for fear of being thrown in prison.
At its core, the measure is "a proscription on open communication between doctor and patient." The flip side of that, however, is that it potentially puts pressure on doctors to cross-examine their patients so as to be sure a woman's decision to abort isn't motivated by sex or race. (And how could one ever be sure?) It also seems very likely that the bill would make pro-choice activists wary of doing outreach services in minority communities -- for fear of it being construed as "soliciting" abortions based on race -- and make abortion providers cautious about serving women of color.
It's important to look at this measure within the context of a recent push to reframe the abortion debate as a battle over racial discrimination. Last week, I wrote about how the Endangered Species Project, which is backed in part by Georgia Right to Life, alleges a "black genocide" at the hands of Planned Parenthood and uses African-American babies as anti-abortion propaganda. Both the bill and the ad campaign are built on the same false premise: That the higher abortion rate in the African-American community is the result of a racist conspiracy by medical providers and pro-choice activists (as opposed to, say, the end result of social manifestations of racism -- like poor healthcare and sex education -- which Planned Parenthood actually works to address). The only evidence they have offered up of such a conspiracy has been thoroughly debunked.
There is no concerted effort by abortion providers to find pregnant black women to pressure into having an abortion. In fact, there is no concerted effort by providers to find pregnant women of any race to pressure into having an abortion. (Must I once again mention that the vast majority of Planned Parenthood's reproductive services are preventive?) The presumption of a need for this measure in the first place is based on anti-abortion mythology. If it becomes law, though, it sounds like a different kind of racial discrimination -- one that deprives minorities of equal access to reproductive services -- just might become a reality.