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Don’t Use India’s Missing Girls to Deny Women Reproductive Rights

11:57 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Mallika Dutt for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Mallika Dutt

Mallika Dutt on the struggle for women’s equality in India.

On Tuesday last week, I testified at a hearing of the Congressional Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, entitled “Improving the Status and Equality of Women and Girls—Causes and Solutions to India’s Unequal Sex Ratio.”

Gender-biased sex selection—the illegal misuse of medical technologies to determine the sex of a fetus in order to ensure a male child—has led to an alarming decline in the number of girls across India and elsewhere in the world. By some estimates, India is missing approximately 40 million girls. In the state of Haryana, there are only 832 girls for every 1,000 boys—a dramatically skewed ratio. This clear preference for sons is yet another manifestation of worldwide devaluing of women.

The problem requires an urgent and global response. So one might think that attention to son preference by the U.S. Foreign Relations Committee would be cause for celebration.

If only. The truth is that the people shaking their fists the hardest about the issue are actually those who are most hostile to women’s rights. Anti-abortion advocates have seized upon and rebuilt the issue as a Trojan horse for their own agenda. What they’re really trying to do? “Protect” women’s rights by denying women rights.

It is imperative that we stop gender-biased sex selection (GBSS). And it is imperative that we understand why we must stop it.

GBSS is a cultural practice driven precisely by devaluing and discrimination of women. Stopping it, therefore, is not about denying individual women their “choice.” It is about promoting the rights and worth of girls and women. What, after all, are the particular and age-old drivers of son preference? The view of girls as risks and burdens. Daughters are expensive—often requiring dowries, rarely able to bring in income. Daughters are “bad investments”—traditionally leaving their families for their husbands’ and not helping care for aging parents. Daughters are dangerous, inviting the risk of real assault or indiscretions that could besmirch family “honor.” Daughters are expendable.

So families have acted on son preference since long, long before the latest technologies facilitated, for a relatively small number of people, sex-selective pregnancy termination. Yet strangely, it is only when abortion enters the equation that certain individuals—like those I debated at the hearing—get interested in “saving” girls and women.

In reality, only 5 percent of abortions in India are connected to GBSS. At the same time, 47,000 women die as a result of unsafe abortion each year; the vast majority of these deaths occur in low-income settings. Deaths from complications of unsafe abortion account for 13 percent of all maternal deaths worldwide.

If you want to “protect” women, make sure they have access to safe abortions. And get to the root of the problem by challenging and changing the cultural and institutional norms that enshrine the devaluing of girls. We also need more reliable data to better measure the extent of sex-selection practices and progress made toward challenging them. And we need better law and enforcement on inheritance lines, dowry, and legal and safe abortion. Most of all, women and girls require access to information, health services, education, and security. When we make daughters welcome in households, neighborhoods, and nations, we are all able to thrive. What they don’t need is to have their rights taken away under false claims.

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What’s the Matter With Bans on Race- and Sex-Selective Abortion? Everything

11:37 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Imani Gandy for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

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Sex- and race-selective laws serve an anti-abortion agenda, but don't protect actual minorities.

A particularly pernicious narrative about abortion rights is one that accuses pro-choice groups and abortion clinics of attempting to target “pre-born” minorities (and girls) for abortion, and dismissing as callously indifferent to the lives of “pre-born” minorities those who oppose efforts to ban so-called sex- and race-based abortion.

The narrative, based upon an out-of-context quote by Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, is as commonplace as it is false.  To hear anti-choice groups tell it, Margaret Sanger was a racist woman whose goal was to exterminate black babies and bring eugenics to the United States. This is, of course, nonsense.

According to the aggressively uninformed anti-choice crowd, Margaret Sanger proclaimed, “[W]e want to exterminate the Negro population.”  The full context of the quote, however, belies the meaning anti-choicers ascribe to it.

As David Edwards of Raw Story pointed out last year, in a 1939 letter to pro-birth control advocate Clarence J. Gamble, Sanger argued that black leaders should be involved in the effort to deliver birth control to the black community: “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs.” Facts be damned, however, anti-choice groups wail about abortion being black genocide, or black babies being an endangered species. This “black genocide” narrative drives the debate over “race-selective” abortion laws that have been introduced during recent legislative sessions around the country and at the federal level. (Only two such laws passed: one in Kansas as part of an omnibus bill in 2012 (SB 313), and one in Arizona in 2011 (HB 2443). Currently, Indiana is considering a race-selective abortion ban (HB 1430.)

Narratives based on social biases and stereotypes drive the debate regarding sex-selection, as does a fundamental failure to grasp that “son preference” in certain cultures is based upon gender stereotypes and inequity, and that abortion bans do not address these issues. (Currently, gender-selective abortion bans are being considered at the federal level (SB 138 (PRENDA 2013) and in six states:  Indiana (HB 1430 and SB 0183); New York (AO2533 and SO2286); Virginia (HB 1316); Missouri (HB 386); North Dakota (HB 1305); and Texas (HB 309). Notably PRENDA 2012 (which failed to pass last year) dropped the “race-selection” provision before putting it up for a vote, however the remainder of this article will use the term PRENDA to refer to both race- and sex-selective abortion bans.)

Generally, these bills would threaten doctors with up to five years in prison for performing such a procedure, and would permit fathers married to the woman who obtains an abortion to sue a doctor he believes performed an abortion based upon the sex or race of a fetus. These laws also require doctors and nurses to report women whom they suspect are seeking an abortion on the basis of gender bias.

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Sex-selective Abortion Bans: A Disingenuous New Strategy to Limit Women’s Access to Abortion

11:22 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Sneha Barot for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Republished with permission from the Guttmacher Policy Review, Spring 2012, Volume 15, Number 2.  See all our coverage of the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA) here and all our coverage of sex selection here.

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Among the widening panoply of strategies being deployed to restrict U.S. abortion rights—ostensibly in the interest of protecting women—is the relatively recent push to prohibit the performance of abortions for the purpose of sex selection. Sex-selective abortion is widespread in certain countries, especially those in East and South Asia, where an inordinately high social value is placed on having male over female children. There is some evidence—although limited and inconclusive—to suggest that the practice may also occur among Asian communities in the United States.

A broad spectrum of civil rights groups and reproductive rights and justice organizations stand united in opposition to these proposed abortion bans as both unenforceable and unwise. Advocates for the welfare of Asian American women are particularly adamant in protesting that such laws have the potential to do much harm and no good for their communities. Moreover, they argue that proposals to ban sex-selective abortion proffered by those who would ban all abortions are little more than a cynical political ploy and that the real problem that needs to be addressed is son preference—itself a deeply seated and complex manifestation of entrenched gender discrimination and inequity.

Understanding the Root Problem…
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Son Preference and Sex Selection in America: Why It Persists and How We Can Change It

11:26 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Sujatha Jesudason and Anat Shenker-Osorio for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

See all our coverage of the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA) here and all our coverage of sex selection here. See also this article on PRENDA by Miriam Yeung.

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UPDATE: As of 11:00 am Wednesday, May 30th, the vote on PRENDA has been moved to Thursday, May 31.

Son preference, missing girls, sex selection: We may seek to label these Chinese or Indian issues, but they exist here in America. And with anti-choice crusaders desperate to destroy Planned Parenthood Federation of America, America’s leading provider of affordable reproductive health care for women, the purportedly spreading practice of sex-selective abortion is back in the news. With the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA) up for a vote in the House, it’s also back in full force on the legislative agenda.

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. These skewed ratios aren’t present among other ethnic groups in America.

This intentional kid picking takes multiple forms. Now, we can know and thus select for sex as early as seven weeks into a pregnancy, using a non-invasive blood test making big news in popular and obstetric circles. Far more reliable than urine-based guesses from Walgreen’s and far safer than other early use options, this new technique is meant to minimize sex-linked diseases. But this product enters a market where some parents-to-be pine not just for any healthy baby; some want what they see as a particular kind.

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.

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“PRENDA the Pretenda:” H.R. 3541 Is An Attack on Asian American Women, and We Know It

11:56 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Miriam Yeung for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

For all our coverage of the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA), click here.

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Before the clock runs out on another Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, anti-choice legislators have decided to send the Asian American community home with a parting gift. This Wednesday, HR 3541, the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA) will be put to a vote in the House. PRENDA would ban abortions sought based on the sex of a fetus, threaten doctors with up to five years in prison for performing such a procedure, and even require doctors and nurses to report women whom they suspect are seeking an abortion for these reasons. While the bill is cloaked in the language of civil rights for women, this bill is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Rather than lifting the status of women, this bill is nothing more than another hypocritical attempt to ban abortions in this country – this time using Asian women as the excuse.

In my testimony at the subcommittee hearing on this bill in December, I referred to this bill as “PRENDA the pretenda.” The sponsors of this bill are using the guise of “ending discrimination against female babies,” which sounds like a good cause, in order to ban abortion for the very people it pretends to protect: Asian American women. We recognize that this is simply a particularly demeaning way for anti-choice legislators to limit abortion access.

The hypocrisy of the bills sponsors becomes even more clear when we look at their voting records. They have never supported the numerous measures that would improve the living conditions of women and people of color — like the Voting Rights Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and the Violence Against Women Act.

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New Hoax Campaign in the Wars Over Safe Abortion Care and Women’s Rights

12:33 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Leslie Kantor & Dr. Carolyn Westhoff for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Photo by Bad Lyric Police

In recent weeks people who oppose Planned Parenthood, and our mission to provide high-quality reproductive health care, have been conducting a secret, nationwide hoax campaign in an attempt to undermine women’s access to services.

For years opponents of reproductive health and rights have used secret videotaping tactics with fictitious patient scenarios and selective editing to promote falsehoods about Planned Parenthood’s mission, services, and policies. Recently, one group has escalated these hoax visits in many states, apparently using secret recorders while inquiring about sex selection abortions. We anticipate that this group, likely in coordination with a broad range of anti-abortion leaders, will soon launch a propaganda campaign with the goal of discrediting Planned Parenthood, and, ultimately, furthering legislation that blocks access to basic reproductive health care, including birth control.

We can expect this propaganda campaign to further escalate the political battles over access to health care, rather than focus on the best ways to help women and their families get the care they need.

As a nonprofit health care provider with nearly 800 health centers, Planned Parenthood provides access to professional, nonjudgmental, affordable reproductive health care, ensuring nearly three million patients receive preventive and lifesaving care every year. Without Planned Parenthood, many women would have nowhere else to turn for breast and cervical cancer screening, well woman exams, birth control, STD testing and treatment, sex education, and pregnancy options.

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