By Nicole Catá, Policy Intern
On June 1st, 2010, the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project and Law Students for Reproductive Justice co-hosted a series of panels and discussions called the 2010 Summer Intern Training on Reproductive Rights Law & Justice. Around 20 students attended the event, which explored current trends in the reproductive justice movement from a legal perspective. The first, and perhaps the most controversial, activity was called “Next Wave of Abortion Restrictions: Banning Abortions Based on the Sex or Race of the Fetus.” Miriam Yeung, Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, and Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, Staff Attorney for the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, explained that conservative legislators such as Congressman Trent Franks, R-Ariz., are pushing sex and race selection abortion bans in federal and state legislatures.
Given the controversial nature of these proposals, the presenters decided to have each participant stand along a line representing a continuum based on how strongly he or she agreed or disagreed with a particular statement. It seemed that none of us could come to a consensus about any of the questions: Does sex-selection abortion rely on or enforce gender stereotypes? Is it natural to want to balance sex representation in a family? Is choosing the sex or physical characteristics of a fetus any different from stating one’s preferences on an adoption form? Many of us stood somewhere in the middle of the continuum, floundering between a simple “yes” or “no.”
Despite the ethical ambiguity of these questions, though, we were able to conclude that the bans currently being proposed purport to have the needs of racial and ethnic minorities and women in mind but instead are likely to drive a wedge between abortion providers, who are criminalized by the legislation, and women who seek to exercise their reproductive rights. For example, when faced with the penalty for performing an abortion that is sought based on the sex or race of the fetus, risk-averse providers may stop asking any questions about the reasons for having an abortion, which could lead to problematic diagnoses. These legislative efforts, in fact, have much in common with the billboard ads in Georgia proclaiming that “blacks are an endangered species”: both use the language of reproductive justice to infringe on a woman’s right to choose and create a cunning political and legal trap for those who seek to ensure reproductive freedoms for all women.
So what does this mean for Latinas and reproductive justice? Of course, not all Latinas will agree on the answers to all of the questions posed above, but we should all oppose misguided, insincere efforts to curb our reproductive freedoms. Although Illinois and Pennsylvania have upheld laws that allow providers to question the motivation of a woman seeking an abortion since 1975 and 1982, respectively, this issue has now earned serious media attention and could impact a woman’s right to make informed decisions for herself and her family. Many reproductive justice organizations have pointed out that concern for racial minorities and women has not informed Congressman Franks’ legislative decision-making in debates on any other issue, attempting to derail this movement before it attains legal force. I am still not sure where I stand on the continua we created during the 2010 Summer Intern Training, but I do know that we cannot allow the disingenuous proposals of some lawmakers to infringe on the reproductive freedoms of Latinas and of all women.
By Nicole Catá, Policy Intern