An all-male panel in the House of Representatives considered a bill on Thursday that would ban sex-selective and race-based abortions in the United States, saying such a bill is needed because women of color have higher than average rates of abortion.
Several congresswomen of color slammed the bill as a "racist" and "xenophobic" attack on a woman's right to choose.
"I fiercely oppose the disingenuous 'Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act,' which shamefully claims to protect minority women but instead targets and stigmatizes them," said Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.). "PRENDA is dangerous, invasive, not grounded in reality and an affront to all minority women, especially Latinas and immigrant women, who already face disproportionate barriers to access health care and health education."
The legislation would impose criminal penalties on doctors who perform an abortion based on the race or gender of the fetus. Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who led the hearing in the Constitution and Civil Justice Subcommittee, framed the bill as a civil rights issue and compared abortion to slavery and the Holocaust.
"Between 40 and 50 percent of all African-American babies are killed before they're born," he said. "A Hispanic child is three times more likely to be aborted than a white child." It's not clear where Franks was getting his numbers from.
Eight states currently ban sex-selective abortions, which are known to occur in China and southeast Asia. Black people and Latinos do have disproportionately high rates of abortion in the U.S., but the relevant correlation here is probably with poverty, not race.
Critics of the bill say the policy is unnecessary in America and would only force doctors to question the motives of immigrants and women of color who seek abortion care.
"It is nothing more than blatant stereotyping," said Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.).
Even if the bill passes the House, it would have little chance of becoming law, as President Barack Obama would almost certainly veto it.