Earlier this year, I named the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) one of my Giving Tuesday Top 5 organizations for their tireless advocacy around racial justice and women’s rights. NAPAWF has been at the forefront of many key issues relevant to the the AANHPI community, chief among them reproductive rights. For years, NAPAWF has engaged in a state-by-state fight to protect our reprodictive rights (which is of particular importance for the AANHPI community) in part by challenging conservative efforts to rollback abortion access with overtly race-baiting bans on abortions if doctors find that the procedure is sought for reasons such as fetal sex. Despite the lack of any evidence that women are seeking such abortions in any significant numbers, these restrictions are passed on the basis of stereotyping of Black, Asian and immigrant parents as immoral and sexist. Further, these racist laws have received scant commentary or criticism from mainstream media or center-aisle Democrats.
Two years ago, NAPAWF joined forces with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to file a lawsuit challenging one particularly vile and racist abortion ban in Arizona, which is noteworthy for its unusually explicit fear-mongering of Black and Asian women during debate that preceded passage of this as the first bill to ban race-selective abortion in addition to sex-selective abortion.
Last month, Purvi Patel faced two seemingly contradictory charges filed against her by the state of Indiana: feticide (actions leading to the death of a fetus in utero) and child neglect (actions that injure or cause death to a child resulting from a live birth). After a lengthy trial, the 33-year-old Indian American woman was found guilty on both counts in the death of her late-term fetus.
The State contends that Patel took black market drugs obtained from Hong Kong to induce a late-term abortion. This argument is based on text messages between Patel and a friend in which Patel considers buying those illegal abortion-inducing drugs. Yet, there is no evidence that Patel actually purchased any such drugs, and no traces of drugs were found in either Patel or her fetus.
Patel’s defense says the criminal charges were punitively filed over a death resulting from a traumatizing miscarriage.
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.
Last year, nearly 500 restrictions on abortion and reproductive choice were proposed at the state level nation-wide. Among those abortion restrictions were bans on sex-selective abortion; bans that have now passed in eight states — Arizona, Illinois, North and South Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Kansas and North Carolina.
Advanced by Republican pro-life legislators, the ban on sex-selective abortions cite concerns that appear superficially feminist: to protect the “unborn” from gender discrimination prior to birth. Further, these bans are based on the assertion that male-biased birth ratios are evidence of sex-selective abortion; that these male-biased birth ratios are only found in India and China; that these male-biased birth ratios are evidence of sex-selective abortion occurring in the United States; that the growing influx of Asian women immigrants from India and China means sex-selective abortion is occurring here; and that the U.S. is one of the few remaining countries in the world that has yet to ban sex-selective abortion. As I wrote about last year, these are the kinds of arguments that are being expressed on the floor of state legislatures, and they are succeeding in restricting reproductive rights for women living in those states.
Yet, closer examination of the arguments of Republican legislators reveals that it is predominantly unfounded and wholly racist anti-Asian stereotypes — not facts — that serve as the principle justification for these recent restrictions on sex-selective abortions.
Since 2001, Reappropriate has been the web's foremost Asian American activism, identity, feminism, and pop culture blog!