Sex-Selection Abortion Bill Targets Asian American Women

June 5, 2012

Rep. Trent Franks

Photo credit: US Federal Government.

Last week, the House of Representatives voted on the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA), a bill sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) to fight “a war on unborn little girls.” Franks claimed that 200 million abortions around the world can be tied to the practice of “sex-selection abortions,” particularly in Asia and among Asian immigrants.

In this Washington Post opinion piece, Franks didn’t dispute that the bill targets the Asian community. He justifies it by saying: “The real target in the Asian community here is the Asian women who are being coerced into aborting little girls.”

Strange. As an Asian American woman myself, I was not aware that there was this massive threat in the Asian American community towards unborn baby girls. While it’s true that the abortion rate is higher among Asian American women, there is no evidence that this is due to preferential sex selection.

In fact, there’s no evidence that this is true in China, either. Research shows abortions are highest among young and single women, and point to inadequate knowledge about contraception as a major factor in the 13 million abortions performed in China every year. Even Fox News attributed China’s rising abortion rates to new lax attitudes towards premarital sex, combined with lagging sex education and persistent social stigma towards single women with children.

But if you go by the language of the PRENDA Bill, we might as well be living in Foreign Stereotype World. Consider this:

The targeted victims of sex-selection abortions performed in the United States and worldwide are overwhelmingly female. The selective abortion of females is female infanticide, the intentional killing of unborn females, due to the preference for male offspring or “son preference”. Son preference is reinforced by the low value associated, by some segments of the world community, with female offspring. Those segments tend to regard female offspring as financial burdens to a family over their lifetime due to their perceived inability to earn or provide financially for the family unit as can a male. In addition, due to social and legal convention, female offspring are less likely to carry on the family name.

No facts are cited to back this claim up. But that doesn’t seem to be an issue. In fact, according to Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), “Today the three most dangerous words in China and India are ‘It’s a girl.’ We can’t let that happen here.”

How dare those Chinese and Indian folk immigrate to our haven of democracy and spread their backward, sexist ways!

But oddly, I wouldn’t have come to that conclusion on my own.  Are those three nasty words really more dangerous than “We’ve got nukes,” “They work perfectly,” and “We’re using them”?

The bill failed in the House 246 to 168, but don’t expect Franks to be spilling tears over the lost lives of unborn baby girls. This Washington Post article quoted Franks as expecting the measure to fail, but that, “I think we’re doing the right thing strategically” by forcing Democrats to vote against it. Conservatives admitted their plan all along was to use the vote “to paint Democrats as disingenuous in their support for women’s rights by arguing that they voted against a bill intended to protect unborn baby girls.”

“There are other strategies that can go with this. It’s not a naive strategy,” Franks said. The GOP and conservative groups are expected to use vote results to attack vulnerable Democratic opponents.

Wait, now I’m confused. So the point of writing and introducing this bill was to…discredit Democrats? This was all just an election year ploy? Call me naïve, but it really upsets me that these politicians are spending so much time on bills that aren’t supposed to pass instead of working on solutions to real problems. Why are they wasting time on these games to paint the other party in a bad light, when the economy is in the toilet, unemployment is persistent, and Congress hasn’t passed a comprehensive budget in about 123947653 years? Surely there are better things they can do with their time than come up with political maneuvers to alienate Asian American and female voters.

So thank you, Reps. Franks and Smith for pointing out a non-existent problem and creating a solution that doesn’t even protect your alleged victims. You’ve really opened my eyes to the real threat against women: ignorant election year race-baiting in the name of saving poor helpless Asian women from our insidious son-preferential self-hatred. You’re not working to ban sex-selection abortions at all; you’re only thinking of yourselves and how you can gain political edge. Since none of PRENDA’s supporters seem to care that unborn babies are no “safer” today than before this bill was paraded around, I venture to say that it is the legislators who come off as disingenuous in their support for women’s rights.

Perhaps the most dangerous three words in the US today are “Pointless partisan politics.”

More reading:

Yet another effort to racialize the attack on women’s health

What PRENDA would mean to women

House debates bill to ban sex-selective abortions




First and foremost, I believe that abortion should be the choice of any women, regardless of ethnicity or age. If you don't believe you can raise a child in the world, there's no reason you should be forced to have a child and either a) raise him/her under poor circumstances of b) add to the increasing number of orphans. However, I would like to point out one of your statements: In fact, there’s no evidence that [abortions of baby girls as a leading cause for abortion] is true in China, either. Unfortunately, due to the cultural traits of the Chinese society, it is much more likely for a male to succeed and make money than a woman. Because of these, along with China's attempts to curb the population growth with its One-Child Policy (Although the name of this policy is slightly misleading), many families decide to abort their babies if fetus is female. Along with this, China promotes the idea of abortion very strongly with the idea that it is "quick and painless". Another unfortunate circumstance, due to the desire to abort female fetuses, is that China is facing a problem of having a large population of men to females. There is some statistic that says that there is about 1 female for every 1.28 males. (100 million females for every 128 million males, and there's over 1.3 billion people in china, you do the math). So although I believe every woman should have the right to an abortion, there is at least a speck of merit to the bill.
Are you kidding me? You are disputing the fact that women in China selectively abort girls?? Have you seen the orphanages filled with nothing but girls? How about the fact that there is a much higher ration of men versus women in the country due to the sex selection from the Chinese culture putting a great prize on having males? I am an Asian American woman myself, and the sex selection absolutely sickens me. And I don't agree or support Rep. Franks' bill either, but for you to try and deny that it actually exists or is happening, is quite embarrassing. It completely undermines your article and your point because it discredits you as any sort of authority on the topic. It also discredits this "magazine" which I usually quite enjoy. C'mon guys-- you can do better than this. This is journalism 101.

I'm not disputing that sex-selection abortion happens -- it does, and it is sick. What I'm saying is that the reasons for aborting a child in China are trending towards "I'm young and unmarried" rather than "I don't want a girl." More and more young women are choosing an abortion because they don't want a child -- period. In that context, the bill doesn't have legs to stand on. The bill is a smoke screen to avoid addressing real women's health issues in America.

Also, I agree with you about the sex-preferential culture. It definitely exists. But orphanages aren't filled with aborted baby girls; they're filled with baby girls who are carried term, and then abandoned, which is incredibly heartbreaking.

So, to build on a major cultural problem in China, perhaps legislators should come up with something to ban people from giving baby girls up for adoption.

Asian American women aren't being coerced into anything and this article is spot on. That bill is racist. Studies show that Asians have more hepatitis, and people with hepatitis naturally birth more males than females. If one looks at US history, agricultural 19th century America also had significantly more males than females, especially among farmers. Well, Asia is still very much agricultural so it's similar. Not only does the family die if it doesn't have someone to farm the land, but in Eastern cultures the son is coerced/obligated to support the parents in their old age. Based on my own experiences of Asian American and Asian families in Asia, society caters much more to women in Eastern cultures than in Western ones. Entertainment, local media, and social norms in the West cater to violence and casual sex which cater to male tastes, and it's more the opposite in the East. In the West almost all women change their last names and identity upon marriage, whereas it's unheard of in the East unless they adopt Western standards. There are many other examples. Tiger Mothers wouldn't exist if women in Eastern cultures didn't have tremendous power/influence. Some of the comments here are the reason why so many Asian American males are wary of the gender divide that exists in the "community".
"More and more young women are choosing an abortion because they don't want a child" . Many abortions are still sex selection and the procedure to kill unwanted children is a very unpleasant process. China has children to spare and the few brave mothers who manage to resist the one child policy end up with "black children", non persons whom the Chinese government will not acknowledge in anyway. Any health professional that aids the escape of any baby from the abortion process has a world of woe facing them. . Christopher Smith (R-NJ) as long as I can remember has had a sincere interest in the political situation in China. . As for the Franks bill, it's not racist. If one of the effects is it saves Asian girls unborn/about to be born in America, that can hardly be labeled racist and there is no earthly reason for Franks not to have an interest. If Franks passed an aid bill to educate immigrant Asian kids, you'd be lauding him, where is the sin in him feeling he is protecting them? . It's an old tactic to pass bills that will fail to put a light on the opposing party. Democrats did so earlier with the LiLy Ledbetter/Fair Pay Act. The Democrats knew it was going to go down as the Republicans see it more as The Legal Industry, Inc Full Employment Act of 2012 than a bill to promote pay equity. The Democrats wanted to promote the war on women by Republicans. . In another post on this site (Politics: Targeting the AAPI Vote for the 2012 Presidential Election) , AAPI's were bragging they helped keep Harry Reid in office. Maybe since they helped Harry, they will be kind enough to explain why the Democrats in the Senate haven't provided a budget for the past few years or that Reid has blocked multiple bills from coming to the Senate floor for debate. Some of these bills were favored by Obama and passed by the Republicans in the House then die in the Senate.
While I generally love Hyphen, I agree with the other commenter: This post is wrong regarding sex selection in China. Actually shockingly so (I am writing this from China BTW, but via VPN. ;) You are also wrong about this problem not existing in the US and didn't even bother looking at statistics. Here some starting points: [this is the shorter version of the first link] So much for the "there is no evidence". HELL YES, there is evidence. You just ignore it. As for China; this is a good starting point: Your response to the other reader "it should be illegal to give up baby girls for adoption" was too nonsensical and dangerous for me to process it. If you read the opening paragraph of the Economist article, you'll get what I mean. A point that you could have made, but didn't: When did the Republicans ever actually care for women or people of color?!

Thanks for the links, Kat! I'm not saying sex-selection abortion doesn't exist or isn't a problem; the problem here is legislators casting a blanket assumption that if you are Asian American, then you will have a preference for a son and your primary reason for seeking an abortion is because your baby is a girl. This is simply not the case. Sex-selection is just one of many reasons people will seek an abortion.

I apologize if my comment about banning baby girls for adoption offended you (sarcasm doesn't always translate well in text form!). It was meant to be nonsensical, to show fallacies in the bill’s logic. Why are we making bills based on social problems in another country? It makes no sense that Asian Americans will act the same way as their counterparts in China, India, etc. Since the bill wasn't meant to pass anyway, it doesn't do anything to protect women or unborn baby girls. It does a huge disservice to actual victims of sex-selection abortion, and for what? A tiny bit of election year leverage? Surely women deserve better than that.

"A point that you could have made, but didn't: When did the Republicans ever actually care for women or people of color?!" .
"A point that you could have made, but didn't: When did the Republicans ever actually care for women or people of color?!" As a conservative Republican, let me clear up any confusion: We Republicans have never, do not presently and - so help us God - will never care for women or people of color. You can add poor people - of any color or gender - to that list as well. That is why one of the greatest achievements in my life up to this point has been getting a Democrat female of color to agree to marry me. The poor soul actually is convinced I love her. This is going to be fun (for me, not for her). I hope this helps.
Firstly, is Trent Frank part Asian? Secondly, I agree with the bill - but at the same time I think they should also make it illegal for all those white girls to have abortions because they don't want a black baby.
"That is why one of the greatest achievements in my life up to this point has been getting a Democrat female of color to agree to marry me. " . I bet you had a discussion of Antonin Scalia's view on originalism over a candle light dinner. No woman can resist it and I bet she even picked up the tab for dinner before saying yes to you.
Than you for your response, Victoria! However I still have a follow up question: So what would you suggest against sex selection in the US?