San Francisco poised to become first city to ban racist anti-Asian abortion bans

September 11, 2014
San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu has introduced the nation's first resolution that would ban sex-selective abortion bans.
San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu has introduced the nation’s first resolution that would ban sex-selective abortion bans. (Photo credit: Lea Suzuki / The Chronicle)

Over the past several years, anti-abortion lawmakers have been using a variety of legislative tactics to throw legal barriers in front of abortion access; their goal being to make abortion so difficult, bureaucratic and harrowing a process as to render it a completely impractical option for most women seeking reproductive care. From proposing a host of manipulative restrictions or bans (such as fetal heartbeat bills) or attacking clinic buffer zones designed to protect patients from the harassment of street protesters, the new war on Roe is being waged incrementally. Abortion opponents no longer seek to overturn Roe in one fell swoop, but instead hope to give Roe a death by a thousand papercuts.

One recent tactic in  vogue among Republican anti-abortion lawmakers is to seek to pass a new kind of anti-abortion bill: one so racist and sexist as to demand outcry from Asian American advocacy groups. In the last few years, these anti-choice legislators have put forward over 60 bills in various states, seeking to outlaw sex-selective abortion: abortions purportedly conducted based on the fetus’ sex and specifically to select for male children. The rationale for these bans is that because sex-selective abortions are allegedly widely practiced in countries like China and India (a recent study suggests they are not — male-biased sex ratios are found throughout the world including in White-majority countries, and surveys reveal no universally stated preference for male children over female children in Asian countries), and because Asian Americans are among the fastest growing racial population in the country, that sex-selective abortion bans are necessary to prevent Asian and Asian American women from essentially bringing sex-selective abortion practices to the states.

Although GOP lawmakers assert that the justification for sex-selective abortion bans is a feminist one, a close consideration of their rationale reveals that it is actually based on nothing more than thinly-veiled anti-Asian woman stereotyping. There is no evidence that Asian American women are practicing sex-selective abortion in any part of America; yet this law allows the myth of the immoral and misogynistic Asian American parent to persist not only unchallenged, but now as part of state law in eight states.

San Francisco Supervisor (center) with community advocates at this week's press conference announcing a resolution to ban sex-selective abortion bans in the city.
San Francisco Supervisor (center) with community advocates from several Asian American and reproductive health groups at this week’s press conference announcing a resolution to ban sex-selective abortion bans in the city.

The comprehensive study conducted in part by the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) — which has set as one of their advocacy priorities an effort to stop sex-selective abortion bans as they are proposed in state legislatures around the country — reveals that sex-selective abortion bans have had zero impact on post-natal gender ratios in states where they have been passed. Not only are sex-selective abortions not happening in any significant number, but most abortions occur in the first 11 weeks of a pregnancy, before sex determination tests can even be performed. Thus, it becomes clear that sex-selective abortion bans are not feminist laws intended to protect unborn girls; instead, they are yet another anti-choice tactic designed to restrict abortion access for all women.

In particular, such laws will significantly stigmatize reproductive healthcare options for Asian American women, who have relatively low rates of sexual education (due to taboos surrounding sexual education conversations), high rates of unintended pregnancies and low access to regular reproductive healthcare; consequently, Asian American women currently seek abortions at rates higher than the national average. Obstacles that hinder abortion access for Asian American women will have profound impacts on our community.

In 2011, Arizona passed the country’s first sex-selective abortion ban and last year, NAPAWF partnered with the NAACP and ACLU to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of this ban.

Meanwhile, legislators in San Francisco are taking matters into their own hands. Earlier this year, San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu presented a bill before the city’s Board of Supervisors that seeks to ban sex-selective abortion bans in the city.  The bill is co-authored by four other San Francisco supervisors: London Breed, Malia Cohen, Jane Kim and Katy Tang. Reports the San Jose Mercury News:

San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu announced a resolution to the board of supervisors Tuesday opposing sex-selective abortion bans, stating that the bans are rooted in the assumption, not evidence, that Asian American communities are exercising sex-selection in favor of males.

Chiu said today sex-selective abortion bans can “lead to the denial of reproductive health care services to women by some medical providers and lead to the further stigmatization of women, particularly Asian American women.”

The city’s ban is being presented as a response to efforts by California Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) to present a sex-selective abortion ban to the California State Legislature in May of this year; that ban was considered but ultimately voted down. Chiu’s bill calls upon the California State Legislature, and on state legislators around the country, to steadfastly oppose any future such racist abortion restrictions. The resolution reads in part:

WHEREAS, No city or state in the country has yet taken a position to publicly oppose sex-selective abortion bans; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the San Francisco Board of Supervisors urges the California State Legislature to reject any future attempts to pass a state sex-selective abortion ban; and, be it

FURTHER RESOLVED, The San Francisco Board of Supervisors calls upon other cities, states and the federal government to likewise reject these discriminatory measures.

If passed, San Francisco’s bill would represent the first ban on sex-selective abortion bans in the country.

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