San Francisco adopts resolution prohibiting sex-selective abortion bans

September 17, 2014
San Francisco Supervisor, David Chiu.
San Francisco Supervisor, David Chiu.

Earlier last week, I wrote about a resolution authored by San Francisco Board of Supervisors representative David Chiu prohibiting sex-selective abortion bans. Those bans  have been built upon racist, anti-Asian logic to reduce abortion access for all women, and in particular to stigmatize reproductive health for Asian American women. Chiu’s resolution, which would ban sex-selective abortion restrictions in San Francisco and call on other city and state legislators around the country to do the same, was co-authored by fellow Supervisors Jane Kim, Katy Tang, London Breed and Malia Cohen.

Chiu’s resolution (read the full text here) was on the agenda for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ meeting yesterday, and NBC News reports that the resolution was fully endorsed by the board without the need to go to a vote.

That makes San Francisco the first city to ban these racist abortion restrictions, sending a powerful message to the rest of the country.

Republican and California State Senate candidate, Peter Kuo.
Republican and California State Senate candidate, Peter Kuo.

Of course, not everyone is thrilled by this turn of events. Conservative columnist Debra J. Saunders wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle under an inflammatory headline (“Sex-selection abortions, you have a friend in San Francisco”) that she didn’t understand the problem Chiu’s resolution was attempting to solve. She further cited Republican State Senate candidate Peter Kuo’s scathing open letter regarding Chiu’s resolution, refuting what Kuo asserts is Chiu’s playing of a race card:

As a Taiwanese-American, I’m appalled by his attempt to characterize a very difficult, very polarizing debate in racial terms. Even if we cannot agree on that issue, let’s embrace the opportunities that have been presented to us in America; to have an open and honest political debate.  We may not agree on “gender-selection” abortion, but a little class in the discussion could go a long way in establishing a more collegial environment for governing. Crying racism every time someone doesn’t like your agenda minimizes the voices of Asian-Americans and furthers the narrative that we are just another “minority demographic” that is willing to take the bait when the race card is pulled.

It seems that neither Saunders nor Kuo (who incidentally also opposed calls for Fox News anchor Bob Beckel’s resignation after the pundit used an anti-Chinese slur on-air) understand that laws passed based on faulty racist reasoning — which includes sex-selective abortion restrictions — have no business being codified as state law; California already has a long, storied history of that heinous practice, and should be walking away from that tradition. Furthermore, while sex-selective abortions are not a significant problem in the United States, abortion access for minority women (including Asian American women) is.

At 35% of pregnancies, Asian American women choose abortion at nearly twice the rate of White women, and are the second-highest race or ethnicity to do so. Lack of adequate in-language contraceptive care and education means that for many Asian American women protecting abortion access is a necessary option for women seeking full reproductive health coverage. Bans that limit abortion access — particularly bans built upon anti-Asian stereotyping — can only serve to harm women, including Asian American women, by discouraging them from seeking a medical practice that they have full legal rights to obtain by law. Write Chiu and NAPAWF’s Miriam Yeung in an editorial over the weekend:

Sex-selective abortion bans sound well-intentioned, but are part of a broader strategy to chip away at a woman’s constitutional right to choose. Sex-selective abortion bans were the second-most-common abortion restrictions proposed last year. Legislators who have put forward these bans claim that Asian American parents in particular practice cultural norms that favor the lives of baby boys over baby girls.

Consider what can happen in a state with a sex-selective abortion ban. Out of fear of being criminalized, doctors could scrutinize the decisions of Asian American women in ways other women are not subject to, and possibly even deny them care. For a woman with a language barrier in states where this is the law, a simple misunderstanding can result in denial of care.

Yesterday, San Francisco passed a law banning an abortion ban, and in so doing established itself as a leader in the fight to protect reproductive rights for Asian American women, and all women. Sure, there’s no sex-selective abortion ban being considered in California’s state legislature right now.

With any luck, the next time someone hopes to reintroduce any such ban California, San Francisco’s position on the subject will already be clear: the city of San Francisco stands with women, and against racism.

For what it’s worth, David Chiu is currently a candidate on the ballot in November to represent California’s 17th district in the State Assembly. Chiu won the Democratic primary for the 17th District in June by 5-points over opponent David Campos. While it’s incredibly likely that Chiu will win in the heavily Democratic district on November 4th of this year, you can nonetheless thank Chiu for his leadership on this issue by contributing to his general election campaign here: Vote David Chiu 2014.

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