43 years ago today, the Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision that would serve as an important foundation principle for the establishment of reproductive rights for women. In a 7-2 decision, the Justices ruled that the government had no right to interfere with a woman’s decision to seek (or not seek) an abortion for non-medical reasons; this choice, they declared, was protected by our constitutional right to privacy.
Since then, Roe v. Wade has had an incredible impact on women, enabling an unprecedented social, political and economic mobility for women in general.
Compared to 43 years ago, rates of higher education and employment for women has profoundly grown, and we are finally starting to attain a measure of parity with our male counterparts. In addition to remarkable inroads into the workplace, the White House notes:
Women’s gains in educational attainment have significantly outpaced those of men over the last 40 years. Today, younger women are more likely to graduate from college than are men and are more likely to hold a graduate school degree. Higher percentages of women than men have at least a high school education, and higher percentages of women than men participate in adult education.
The connection between abortion access and women’s economic well-being should be immediately obvious. As a report by the Reproductive Health Technologies Project writes, “There is likely no decision that has a greater economic impact on a woman’s life than having—or not having—a child.”
Unsurprisingly, therefore, today abortion access enjoys not only constitutional protection but also popular support. 80% of Americans believe abortion should be legal, with most supporting a women’s right to abortion access in all cases. Mirroring these broader trends, one study has shown that 78% of Asian American and Pacific Islanders also support legal abortion and 54% support abortion access in most cases.
When asking whether abortion should be legal in all cases (a more stringent question), the 2008 National Asian American Survey — the nation’s most comprehensive survey of the AAPI community’s political opinions — found that 54.8% of surveyed Asians or Asian Americans either agreed that abortion should be legal in all cases or had no opinion. (Please note that a more recent NAAS was conducted in 2012, and those data are not yet open access so I am using the 2008 survey’s findings).
We all know, however, that data regarding the AAPI community must be disaggregated by ethnicity in order to provide necessary context. As with most trends in the AAPI community, there is in fact broad diversity of opinion on abortion rights. (In this survey, Pacific Islanders were included in the “Other” category; more recent versions of NAAS provided additional disaggregation beyond what is available in the open source 2008 dataset).
Nonetheless, the general overall support for abortion rights among AAPIs likely has something to do with the fact that Asian Americans have among the highest rates of abortion services usage of all women: 35% of AAPI pregnancies end in abortion. Empowering women (and particularly, women of colour) with the ability to choose — or not choose — an abortion is necessary in a country that otherwise lacks adequate pre-natal and maternal healthcare: single mothers are among the most vulnerable for economic instability, chronic unemployment, and poverty particularly during times of economic recession. For women of colour, including AAPI women, this risk is further exacerbated.
In a vicious self-perpetuating cycle, abortion is not always covered by private or public health insurance meaning that women may face an out-of-pocket payment of hundreds or thousands of dollars for the procedure. Consequently, ongoing economic inequality means that impoverished women lack the same abortion access as middle and upper-middle-class (and predominantly White) women who can seek these services at local hospitals at their standard fee; those who can’t afford to do so must seek abortion care from low-income providers such as Planned Parenthood, which has itself been the target of unprecedented government scrutiny and defunding efforts. The simple fact is that 43 years after the passage of Roe v. Wade, many women continue to lack meaningful access to their constitutionally protected right to abortion services.
Indeed, this is exactly what opponents of reproductive justice want. Unswayed (or perhaps even, openly angered) by how abortion access has enabled political and economic agency for this nation’s women, anti-abortionists have sought to roll back reproductive rights for women ever since Roe v. Wade was decided back in 1973. In recent years, those efforts have focused on stymying abortion access using overtly racist, anti-Asian rhetoric to stop the manufactured threat of sex-selective abortions. Meanwhile, the passage of feticide laws have been overwhelmingly used to unfairly prosecute Asian immigrant women, and other women of colour. This year, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases that could enable the currently conservative bench to severely restrict abortion rights, or even overturn Roe v. Wade altogether.
Today, 43 years after the passage of Roe v. Wade, it is incumbent upon AAPIs to redouble our commitment to protecting reproductive rights and adequate healthcare for the AAPI community. This is a battle that does, and must, matter to us: the fight for reproductive justice is fundamentally intertwined with issues of racial justice and economic justice, and this battle rages on.
It is not enough as AAPIs committed to social justice for us to quietly support abortion access. Instead, I believe we must make reproductive justice a more central focus of our activism. We must vocally support local legislation to prohibit racist abortion bans in California and New York. We must actively support our reproductive healthcare providers. We must openly challenge America to prioritize the health and well-being of our women, and particularly our low-income women, our immigrant women, and our women of colour.
Today, 43 years after Roe v. Wade, we must shout our support, loudly and proudly, for reproductive justice, and we must stop anti-abortionists’ unrelenting efforts to chip away at our reproductive rights. We must not allow the next 43 years to usher in the end of Roe.