Sex, race and abortion


Republicans in the U.S.House of Representatives took a long walk off the short pier of stupid this week when they introduced the Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act. This act, the brain fart of Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., would leave doctors subject to lawsuits and prison time if they were to abort fetuses based on the fetuses’ sex or race.

Franks says he’s concerned because minority babies and girl babies are aborted at higher rates than white, male babies.

“Can we not agree that aborting a child based on a child’s race or sex is wrong?” he asked.

What he hasn’t managed to show is any proof whatsoever that this occurs in the United States.

It is true that minority babies are aborted at higher rates than white babies. Although whites make up roughly 72 percent of the U.S. population, white women account for only 36 percent of abortions, while non-Hispanic black women account for 30 percent, Hispanic women for 25 percent and women of other races for 9 percent.

What accounts for the higher rate of abortion among minority women?

Based on Franks’ bill, you’d think that black, Hispanic, Asian and American Indian women seek abortions because they’re holding out for white babies. Well, that’s just stupid. It’s not happening. The abortions Franks’ bill would prevent are only in his head.

The reasons minority women opt for abortion are complex and intermingled, but don’t include race or sex.

According to a 2005 study, “Reasons U.S. women have abortions: quantitative and qualitative perspectives,” published in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, three-quarters of women say they cannot afford a child and that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents. About half say they do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or partner.

Interestingly, about 61 percent of women who choose abortion are already mothers. They know what it means to be pregnant, to give birth to a baby and to raise that baby. And what they’re saying when they have an abortion is, “I can’t do this again—at least not now.”

As for sex selection, the vast majority of fetuses are aborted without the woman and her husband or partner knowing what sex they are. Very few are aborted after sex can be determined with any accuracy via ultrasound. The sex ratio of the United States is not shifting toward males, as it is in some places where sex-selective abortion and newborn femicide actually do take place— China, Korea, Taiwan, Pakistan, India.

What Franks’ bill does is apply a non-solution to a complex racial issue and a non-existent gender issue.

If Franks wants to see fewer abortions among minority women, he could start with legislation establishing universal access to contraception. The connection between unwanted pregnancy and lack of money or lack of access to reliable birth control is very real.

He could fight the religious nuts for open, honest comprehensive sex education.

He could also pass a bill establishing paid medical leave for new parents. The United States is the only developed nation in the world that doesn’t guarantee new mothers paid maternity leave.

Franks could also look at the ridiculous cost of daycare, which is so high that, for many working mothers, it cancels out the paycheck.

And, of course, he could provide genuine health-care reform so that women know they won’t have to choose between feeding their kids and buying antibiotics for the baby’s ear infection.

If he did these things, there would be fewer unwanted pregnancies, and more women would be saying, “I think I can make this work,” rather than, “Not now.”

But, of course, he won’t consider this approach. He’s a Republican, and that means he has to pander to GOP’s religious wingnut base by making pro-life gestures, even meaningless ones. And he has to do it without suggesting that government should do anything to help these women.

Because helping them would constitute government interference in their lives, whereas forcing them to remain pregnant is … what, exactly?