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Arizona Stands Against Racism. [Insert Laughter]

Alexa Kolbi-Molinas,
Deputy Director, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
Courtney Bowie,
Racial Justice Program
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April 1, 2011

Apparently, Arizona lawmakers were concerned you might not believe they were committed to fighting racism. So this week, the state of Arizona took the important step of enacting a law, the first of its kind, that seeks to protect communities of color from one of the biggest threats facing them today…women of color.

Just so we’re clear: I’m being sarcastic. The state of Arizona is not.

On March 29, the Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law the Fredrick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony Pre-Natal Non-Discrimination Act. Nice title. But what does the law actually do, you ask? How does it carry on the legacy of those who shaped history by bravely challenging the legacy of racism and sexism in this country?

It requires doctors and health care providers to monitor the reasons women of color get abortions, of course. Confused? This is what happened: The law’s proponents actually went to the state legislature and accused African-American women and women of Asian descent of systematically decimating their own communities through abortion. And if that wasn’t enough, they then invoked two heroes of the civil and women’s rights movements to ask for a law that singles out women of color to police the reasons they get abortions. All, they said, in the service of racial and gender equality. Wow, Arizona, like racial profiling much? Some supporters of the law have tried to defend themselves by saying they simply want to protect women, but these claims are flimsy, at best. Just as it is outrageous and offensive to suggest that women of color are using abortion to destroy their communities, it is equally outrageous and offensive to suggest that a woman of color is not capable of making her own health care decisions and that lawmakers need to supervise her access to abortion for her own good.

It is clear that the proponents of this law are simply degrading and exploiting women of color in order to advance their larger political agenda. The real purpose of this law is to intimidate and shame a woman who decides to obtain abortion care. Attacks on the reproductive dignity and autonomy of women of color are unfortunately nothing new in this country. But what is new is to see those who would interfere with a woman’s personal, private health care decisions so shamelessly co-opting — and subverting — the language of racial and gender equality in order to undermine women’s access to reproductive health.

We may feel differently about abortion, but we should all be able to agree that a woman’s access to health services should not be limited, on the basis of her race. If Arizona lawmakers were so concerned with the health and welfare of children and communities of color, they would take any number of steps to reduce the appallingly and disparately high rates of infant and maternal mortality in the African-American community; they would increase funding to support safe schools, safe communities, and access to jobs, health care, and basic necessities like food. If they truly cared about fighting racism and sexism, they would not pass laws solely to demonize and discriminate against women of color. And they certainly wouldn’t pass some of the most extreme racial-profiling laws in the country.

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