Outspoken Republican Rep. Trent Franks is no stranger to controversy when it comes to race. Last year the Arizona lawmaker claimed that half of all African-American babies are aborted and that current policies were more devastating to Blacks than slavery was. He repeated the claim when he introduced the Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2011 during a Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this week that would ban abortions on the basis of gender or race.
“In 1847, Frederick Douglass said, ‘Right is of no sex, truth is of no color, god is father of us all and all are brethren. Forty to 50 percent of all African-American babies, virtually one in two, are killed before they are born,” he said in his opening statement, adding that the anti-abortion fight is “the civil rights struggle that will define our generation."
Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan), a veteran of the civil rights movement and the longest-serving Black member of Congress, told Franks, “I’ve studied Frederick Douglass more than you. I’ve never heard or read him say anything about prenatal nondiscrimination.”
The legislation would prevent people from discriminating against the unborn and aborting them based on race or sex. In addition, a doctor could face up to five years in prison for failing to determine if either is a factor in a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy. Pro-choice and civil rights groups have assailed it as an attempt to limit the reproductive freedom of women of color.
“It is clear that this bill is a thinly veiled attempt to block access to abortion for communities of color under the guise of anti-discrimination policy,” said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in testimony submitted at the hearing. “Proposals that claim to protect women of color based on race are insincere attempts to help this community. Instead, they deny women of color their reproductive freedom by imposing additional restrictions on abortion access.”
According to a Guttmacher Institute fact sheet, non-Hispanic white women account for 36 percent of abortions, non-Hispanic Black women for 30 percent and Hispanic women for 25 percent. The abortion rate among women of color is due to a higher incidence of unintended pregnancy, and not as Franks suggests, because they’re holding out for a white baby.
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