Last week, Congress fell short of the 2/3 majority needed to pass the Prenatal Nondiscimination Act (PRENDA) which would have banned sex selective abortion in the United States. President Obama also voiced his opposition to the bill, though he did claim he was opposed to sex-selective abortion.
I have no doubt that this is a problematic bill in terms of putting it into practice. However, the voices opposing the bill are simply repeating the same tired old arguments that show that this nation is really at yet another impasse when it comes to the abortion debate. Many critics claimed that the supporters of the bill were “hypocrites” who don’t care about sex selection but are merely looking for an underhanded way to ban all abortion and punish women. Critics of the bill also claim that there are better ways of fighting sex selection than what this bill proposes, as we see by the commentators over at the Huffington Post:
We condemn the gender bias that can lead to pressure to have a child of a particular sex. We are working against the root causes of abortion for sex selection including son preference and gender stereotypes. But there are better ways to combat gender bias than taking away a woman’s ability to make personal, private medical decisions. Instead we should be working together — as we are in our own communities — to decrease gender stereotyping that can lead to strong boy or girl preference.
As if there is only one way to fight injustice. Not that the analogy is perfect, but people said similar things when it came to segregation—let’s change hearts and minds before we consider changing the law. Both, however, are important, and sometimes hearts and minds change only after the law changes. Regardless, fighting for more gender equality and better respect for the rights of mothers is not mutually exclusive with supporting laws opposing abortion, especially in the egregious case of sex selective abortion. In pointing out the hypocrisy of the supporters of the bill, its opponents fell into a similar hypocrisy.
It is true that opponents of abortion need to be more consistent in their support for life after birth, including the lives and well-being of the women who carry the unborn. But this does not justify the decisions on the pro-choice side to fail to support legislative measures like this one which should unite both sides of the argument. Sex selective abortions may not be incredibly common, but gross violations of justice need not be common to be illegal. Rather than the same tired old arguments about hypocrisy, I would have liked the bill’s opponents to put forth an alternative, better bill that could address the concerns of both sides.
A final concern of opponents of the bill focused on turning doctors into inquisitors for women seeking to terminate a pregnancy. Undoubtedly, women seeking abortions are often in a vulnerable state, but would it really be such an awful thing to have more dialogue between doctors and patients about the reasons for pursing an abortion? For consent with any medical procedure to be valid, it must be informed. Informing a patient requires that physicians address alternatives and risks to a procedure. An abortion is a medical procedure, even if it is elective. Physicians need not assume that patients are coming in fully informed about what they are getting into. Question the motives of patients and mentioning alternatives is not about turning physicians into inquisitors; it is simply good medicine.
Our own Charlie Camosy has done remarkable, prophetic work in striving to carve out common ground on the abortion debate, but the responses to this bill make me more pessimistic that common ground is possible.