Isn’t it Funny How Discrimination Can Be Masked as Civil Rights?

I just got my period today—my ovaries are bulging and my Bruterus is on blast. This news doesn’t make it any better: Congressman Trent Franks, a Republican from Arizona, has introduced a bill entitled The Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2011.

Once Susan B. and Frederick D. stop rolling over in their graves, they may notice that the legislation’s stated purpose is to “prohibit discrimination of the unborn on the basis of race or sex, and for other purposes,” supposedly furthering the cause of civil rights. The proposed federal legislation would make more abortions illegal and could send doctors to prison if they provide the procedure without determining whether the race or sex of the fetus factored into their patients’ decision.

When white, conservative Congressmen who say that blacks were better off under slavery and who have a track record of supporting legislation with racist, sexist impacts as well as opposing legislation that would bring about civil rights, gender and sexual equity, racial justice, and better health suddenly care deeply about and want to lead the charge on these issues, we should see right through the smoke screen and call a spade a spade: it’s opportunism and political play at its finest.

Congressman Franks calls this “the civil rights struggle that will define our generation.” But really, it’s the latest in a series of attempts to:

  1. Stigmatize and erode support for reproductive and sexual health and rights by distracting and dividing communities of color.
  2. Attack and restrict access to vital reproductive health services that communities of color and low-income women and people rely upon.

Time and again, women of color have proven that we won’t tolerate being used as political pawns while our rights are rolled back and the real issues we face get ignored or made worse. As Loretta Ross, long-time human rights activist and the National Coordinator of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective has written:

This is why the leadership of African American feminists is vital. We created the Reproductive Justice framework to end the isolation of abortion from other human rights issues such as racism, homophobia, militarism, classism, etc. We challenged the population control motives of eugenicists on the right and the left who promote fertility control for women for motives other than the empowerment of women to make decisions for ourselves. We encouraged the anti-violence movement to incorporate other forms of violence against women beyond rape and battering, to understand the threats to our lives posed by state violence, racist violence, economic violence, and immigration violence. Most importantly we demanded that the pro-choice movement broaden beyond a narrow focus on keeping abortion legal to truly embrace a human rights agenda that connects the dots in the real lives of women. We pointed out that the failure to do so not only threatens Roe, but disaggregates our entire women’s movement into competing silos incapable of coming together to amass the power to really protect all women’s lives and autonomy.

If you disagree with this bill, let your voice be heard and get the word out. Also, support organizations (such as the ones that signed onto the letter below) doing the real, hard work to promote racial and gender justice, decrease racial health disparities and ensure that women and people of color have access to the services and circumstances they need in order to be healthy, for example:

  • Challenging and ending intimate partner violence.
  • Supporting the autonomy and leadership of women, girls, and young people of color.
  • Supporting and increasing access to quality education, daycare, and health care—including prenatal and antenatal care.
  • Increasing access to birth control, pap smears, breast cancer screenings, STI testing and care.
  • Ending the destruction of family ties from mass incarceration, detainment, and deportation of people of color.

The list goes on and on. To learn more about how sex selection and race factor into the bioethics of family creation, check out Dr. Sujatha Jesudason’s talk.

In light of these shared concerns, several groups (PopDev among them) have signed onto a letter to members of the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, expressing our concerns and reasons for opposing the proposed legislation:


2 thoughts on “Isn’t it Funny How Discrimination Can Be Masked as Civil Rights?

  1. Great piece. I would add that right-wing politicians also adopt the language of civil rights in order to dilute, or eviscerate, its meaning in other contexts. It is (and has historically been) a project of those in power to weaken the tools used by the oppressed to speak their truths.


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