Failed Lila Rose hoax and “PRENDA the pretenda” bill inspire dialogue around sex-selective abortion

As Vanessa explained yesterday, the House of Representatives is set vote on the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA), legislation that would ban abortion performed based on the fetus’ sex.  The vote was scheduled to happen today, but was pushed to tomorrow at the last minute. You’ll remember that the law would require doctors to report any person seeking an abortion to the authorities if there’s any suspicion the abortion is sex-selective — and if they don’t report them, the doctors themselves could face jail time.

The timing is very auspicious. Live Action, the anti-choice group with a history of staging failed “sting” and hoax operations inside Planned Parenthood, has released their latest missive, and it is also focused on sex-selective abortion. We knew this was coming back in April, when Maya pointed out that Live Action’s stunt attempts are so predictable that they can be debunked in advance. But the video release combined with the timing of the PRENDA bill have managed to inspire a lot of dialogue around sex-selective abortion, much of which I find to be highly important and a necessary part of our reproductive justice movement’s growth.

The gist of that discussion, and the sentiment that I identify strongly with on this issue, is that, in the words of our own Chloe, “sex-selective abortion is not the disease, it’s the symptom.”

Others more or less agree, adding some key insight from their experience dealing with this issue among real women and families.

At RH Reality Check, Planned Parenthood’s Leslie Kantor and Dr. Carolyn Westhoff made similar points when they describe the organization’s position on sex-selective abortion, saying that “Planned Parenthood condemns sex selection motivated by gender bias, and urges leaders to challenge the underlying conditions that lead to these beliefs and practices, including addressing the social, legal, economic, and political conditions that promote gender bias and lead some to value one gender over the other.” [All emphasis added unless noted.]

In a more recent Huffington Post piece, three heads of leading reproductive justice organizations, Miriam Yeung, Jessica González-Rojas, and Eleanor Hinton Hoytt made similar points in building up a case against PRENDA:

“We condemn the gender bias that can lead to pressure to have a child of a particular sex. We are working against the root causes of abortion for sex selection including son preference and gender stereotypes. But there are better ways to combat gender bias than taking away a woman’s ability to make personal, private medical decisions. Instead we should be working together — as we are in our own communities — to decrease gender stereotyping that can lead to strong boy or girl preference.”

Over at RH Reality Check, many of today’s leading reproductive health voices have also chimed in to take on this somewhat complex issue. In “Son Preference and Sex Selection in America: Why It Persists and How We Can Change It“, Sujatha Jesudason and Anat Shenker-Osorio provide a more global perspective on the phenomenon of sex-selective abortion:

“Son preference, missing girls, sex selection: We may seek to label these Chinese or Indian issues, but they exist here in America

The extent of sex-selective practices in the U.S. is hard to assess, since it’s rarely something people will admit to doing. But we can take an educated guess by observing alterations in expected sex ratios. If nature has its way, women will likely give birth to 100 girls for every 102 to 106 boys. And among first-time parents in the U.S., that’s exactly what we see.

However, as birth order rises, apparently so does selection — at least, in certain ethnic groups. With U.S. 2000 Census data, researchers investigating Korean, Chinese, and Indian communities found that, after one girl, parents have as many as 1.17 boys per girl the second time. With two girls at home, this goes up to 1.51 boys per girl for the third child.”

Jesudason and Shenker-Osorio also note the different face of the phenomenon among different cultures and at varying class levels:

“Although alarmists cite an undocumented rise in abortion due to sex selection, more and more the interest (and well-marketed new product development) is on meddling before implantation. Techniques like sperm sorting and IVF embryo selection are expensive. Even the most generous insurance package doesn’t cover these procedures when not medically necessary. Yet as of 2006, half of American fertility clinics that offer embryo screening allow would-be parents some form of sex selective add-ons… and the market is growing. Never mind that the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology has come out harshly against non-medically necessary sex selection, and even the American Society for Reproductive Medicine has issued lukewarm cautions about it.”

You can check out the rest of the coverage on this issue at RH Reality Check here. By all means, read through and take part in this important conversation. Just remember- when you’re done reading through these conversations– some quite heady– about ethics, science, culture, and health, please don’t forget to face down the very tangible threat that PRENDA poses.  There’s a decent chance the bill will not pass the House, but it still represents a grave threat to women’s health and especially women of color and Asian-Americans. You can find your House rep to contact here, and we’ll make sure to keep you posted on the results tomorrow.

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One Comment

  1. Posted May 31, 2012 at 12:12 am | Permalink

    Beautifully said; gets right to the point. We can rail against a woman’s freedom to choose, or we can question the larger context in which “free” choices are really decided, the cultural climate which predestines us for the positive or negative based on our sex.

    I feel the urgency to expand and rethink the [culturally constructed] categories of gender ever more sharply after reading this news. Are we moving one step forward and one and a subtle half-step back?

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