Yesterday, a group of all female legislators introduced H.B. 716, a sex-selection abortion ban, on the house floor of the general assembly.
As I have said elsewhere in this blog, anti-choice activists are incredibly clever. They are well aware that Roe v. Wade established the right to abortion legal for all American citizens, and so their current tactic is to chip away at abortion access on the state level while simultaneously trying to bring cases that would challenge Roe to the Supreme Court. Many of the laws that chip away at abortion access on the state level are Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider (TRAP) laws. These laws are targeted regulation of abortion care providers. They create special rules and regulations that only apply to abortion care clinics and providers, and when those clinics can’t follow all the laws (because they don’t have the staff, resources, or funds to do so) they have to shut down. To be clear, clinics that perform abortions are (like all medical professionals) already subject to regulations about standards of care, TRAP laws add additional regulations that other health care professionals do not have to follow.
Once you get past all the beaurocratic language, TRAP laws are pretty easy to understand as part of the anti-choice playbook. Sex-selection bills are more complex, and therein lies the brilliance of using them alongside other restrictions to make abortion illegal.
Sex-selection bans are put in place by people who claim that they want to make it impossible for any one to get an abortion because they have a gender preference, typically for a son rather than a daughter. On the face of it, that seems like a very reasonable goal. Gender discrimination is a legitimate concern and no feminist would ever argue that gender preference isn’t a serious issue. This is a serious problem in many parts of the world, and may even be a problem among some communities within the U.S.A., but sex-selection abortion bans are not the solution.
Gender preference is something that occurs as a result of fundamental beliefs about gender inequality. It occurs as a result of the cultural, economic, and social value that, for some, makes boys more desirable than girls. This is a problem that most experts think can best be addressed through education and awareness. Here’s what Sujatha Jesudason and Anat Shenker-Osorio conclude about sex selection bans and son preference for RHRealityCheck:
Instead of curbing rights, our research specifically in South Asian American communities suggests the way to un-do son preference is to address old assumptions. This would require raising awareness about, and also helping to hasten the dramatic changes underway in gender roles… But to end son preference, old beliefs and practices, laws and policies, need to catch up to the new reality, both in the United States and in South Asia. Empowering families, communities, and societies to root out biases and alter their own behaviors without shaming, blaming, or curtailing the rights of women is our only real hope of tackling this issue.
A ban on sex-selection abortion will not solve the problem of gender-preference and sex discrimination, it will simply make doctors less likely to perform abortions for the women who need them.
Experts who work on global health and work to prevent gender preference all around the world agree that sex-selection bans are not aimed at changing the fundamental roots of gender equality, they are part of a comprehensive strategy to make abortion illegal. Please, don’t take my word for it, read this article by Sneha Barot, it was published in the Guttmacher Policy Review last spring.
Doctors who perform abortions at North Carolina clinics are brave individuals. They face protestors every day as they enter the clinics where they do their jobs. Many travel long distances so that women in rural NC can seek out health care in their own communities (something that SB 308 aims to prohibit). Some may even face judgment from friends and family who do not support the work they do. These doctors do this difficult work because they believe all North Carolina women deserve access to safe reproductive health care. HB 716 would place yet another obstacle in the way of these courageous medical professionals, forcing them to attempt to “read the minds” of their patients so that they can be sure sex-selection is not a “significant factor” in their decision to terminate a pregnancy. How many doctors will continue doing this work in the face of such a law?
Here’s NARAL Pro-Choice NC’s official statement:
Today, an all-female group of legislators introduced H.B. 716., a bill that would fine doctors up to $100,000 for performing an abortion where sex-selection is a “significant factor” in a woman’s decision. “Make no mistake, this bill is just another attempt to chip away at North Carolina women’s access to abortion care disguised as a purported concern about sex selection,” said Suzanne Buckley, Executive Director for NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina.” “While gender-preference is a legitimate concern that we at NARAL Pro-Choice NC take very seriously, this bill does nothing to change underlying cultural norms of sexism and gender bias that may place a greater value on boys than girls,” she added.
“This legislation is designed to punish doctors who perform abortions and to place further restrictions upon women’s access to reproductive health services,” Buckley stated. “Moreover, the bill would be impossible to enforce because it requires abortion care providers to “read the minds” of their patients. Do North Carolina voters really need another “Choose Life-only” license plate debacle? How many thousands of our tax dollars will the extreme conservatives at the General Assembly waste trying to outlaw abortion in North Carolina?”
If this bill passes, the state would be granted unprecedented access to the private relationship between a woman and her doctor–paving the way for future reproductive health care restrictions. “The majority of North Carolinians oppose political attacks on women’s reproductive health, but it doesn’t seem like the North Carolina legislature is interested in listening to women. These politicians are out of step with North Carolina’s values and priorities,” said Buckley.
Erin Arizzi is the Communications Intern at NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina. She is a PhD student and teaching fellow in Communication Studies at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has a Masters Degree in Rhetoric from UNC-CH, and a BA in English from Villanova University in Pennsylvania.