A U.S. House of Representatives committee hearing on legislation that seeks to ban sex- and race-selective abortion care devolved into disorder Thursday as the Republican chairman spoke over the panel’s only pro-choice witness and an anti-choice witness got into a shouting match with an audience member.
“This is my time,” Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, said as Miriam Yeung, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, tried to speak at the end of Thursday’s hearing.
“I guess the real question here is: Does abortion really kill a little child?” Franks said. “If it doesn’t, then I’m through talking about it, but if it does, then those of us in this room, whether we know it or not, are standing in the midst of the greatest human genocide in the history of humanity.”
As Franks proposed the “real question,” Yeung’s response could be heard: “What is the role of women in this conversation?”
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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“Black women are not the genocidal actors,” Yeung added, as Franks continued speaking over her. “You’re accusing Black women of murdering their own people.”
“You think that somehow that it’s OK to take the life of a little girl because she’s a little girl instead of a little boy? If that’s your position, I think it speaks for itself,” Franks said, concluding the hearing.
Franks convened the subcommittee to consider his Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA) of 2016 (HR 4924). Similar bills have been introduced in Congress: A comparable version (S. 48), sponsored by Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), is pending in the U.S. Senate.
As written in past bills, legislation of this kind would impose criminal penalties on anyone who knowingly attempts to perform an abortion, aware that the procedure is sought based on the sex of the fetus; uses force or the threat of force to intentionally injure or intimidate any person for the purpose of coercing a sex-selection abortion; solicits or accepts funds for the performance of such an abortion; or transports a patient into the United States or across a state line for the purpose of obtaining such an abortion.
Franks’ bill would ban sex- and race-selective abortions, while Vitter’s bill targets “sex or gender”-selective abortions.
There are no studies proving sex-selective or race-selective abortions are widespread in the United States. Proponents of anti-choice measures like these often justify them by using stereotypes that target women of color.
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), the ranking member of the subcommittee, and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the ranking member of the full House Judiciary Committee, slammed Franks’ bill during opening statements.
Franks opened the hearing with misleading allegations about Black women and abortion, charging that abortion care was the leading “cause of death” for Black people in the United States. “We have overlooked unborn children and that life itself is the most foundational of all civil rights,” he said.
Conyers took on those claims and shifted the focus to the disparities in reproductive care between Black and white communities. “Rather than addressing these disparities, the bill only reinforces them with its criminal penalties, which will create a chilling effect on doctors serving these communities,” he said.
After an extended recess for House votes, the committee reconvened with Franks, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) of the subcommittee, and Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) of the full committee. The National Black Pro-Life Coalition’s Catherine Davis, the Charlotte Lozier Institute’s Anna Higgins, and the Center for Urban Renewal and Education’s Rev. Derek McCoy testified in support of the anti-choice bill.
Yeung, the only pro-choice witness at the hearing, said that PRENDA “perpetuates the offensive stereotype that Black women are unable to make reproductive health decisions for their own families.”
“This legislation also perpetuates the offensive stereotype that Asian-American families do not value the lives of their girl children, while also not addressing the issue of sex-selection by ignoring substantive policy to alleviate the root causes of son preference or gender inequity,” she added.
Chu, who is Asian-American and chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said she took similar offense to such implications.
“I am just astounded that this bill would force a doctor to make a decision about whether a woman is using race selection or sex selection,” she said.
Franks intended the National Black Pro-Life Coalition’s Davis to close out the hearing—that is, until Yeung attempted to offer her objections to allegations Davis made during her testimony about Planned Parenthood targeting people of color by selling fetal tissue. An independent third party has disproved the heavily edited Center for Medical Progress (CMP) videos that claimed Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue for profit.
A Texas grand jury in January indicted David Daleiden, the head of CMP, on a felony charge. This month, California Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office reportedly executed a search of Daleiden’s home in connection with an investigation into whether the anti-choice activist violated California law when he and associates surreptitiously recorded abortion providers in the state.
After Franks spoke over Yeung and adjourned the hearing, Davis got into a brief but heated verbal altercation with Renee Bracey Sherman, a writer and reproductive justice advocate who has written for Rewire. Bracey Sherman referenced her abortion story, which prompted Davis to say, without further clarification, that she is “post-abortive” herself.
“You can’t tell me that Planned Parenthood’s targeting of the Black community is somehow helping Black women,” Davis continued.
Bracey Sherman pressed her to present research that shows otherwise.
“Do you know how many times I’ve gone to Planned Parenthood? When is the last time you’ve been in a Planned Parenthood?” Bracey Sherman said. “Seriously. Try it. Go there.”
Franks briefly paused to observe the melee as he was leaving the hearing before walking out of the room.