Commentary Abortion

Arkansas’ Sex-Selection Abortion Ban Would Discriminate Against Asian American Women (Updated)

Sung Yeon Choimorrow

We refuse to be silent as state legislators use false stereotypes and misleading language to deny Asian American women the same access to safe, confidential, and comprehensive reproductive care as anyone else.

UPDATE, March 31, 12:30 p.m.: Gov. Hutchinson on Wednesday signed HB 1434 into law. In a statement following the signing, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum Interim Executive Director Sung Yeon Choimorrow said, “As the first state in 2017 to pass such a law, conservative lawmakers in Arkansas have demonstrated a clear disregard for the rights of women of color in their state …. We will continue to support AAPI people in Arkansas who now may face unnecessary scrutiny and discrimination because of this new law. We will also fight the six other state bans currently proposed across the country, and continue to resist laws that perpetuate misinformation and stigma about AAPI families.”

Following Wednesday’s session, Arkansas is now one step away from enacting the first sex-selection abortion ban of 2017. Both the Arkansas house and senate voted to approve the bill, sending it to Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s desk. Should the governor sign the bill, Arkansas would become the eighth state with a sex-selection abortion ban in effect come January 2018.

Arkansas’ HB 1434, the Sex Discrimination by Abortion Prohibition Act, would make it illegal for providers to offer abortion services if they even suspect that an abortion is sought due to a sex preference. The ban will ultimately target Asian American women, because such policies are based on the antiquated and false idea that Asian Americans prefer sons over daughters. If signed into law, this bill could lead to Asian American women being denied abortion services because of their ethnic identity.

Asian American women, like everyone else, should be trusted to make their own reproductive health-care choices.

Furthermore, there is no proof that sex-selective abortions happen widely in the United States. The University of Chicago Law School has debunked such gender preference myths in Asian American families. Its 2014 report found six inaccuracies commonly associated with bans like the one approved by Arkansas lawmakers, including the myth that such laws are an effective way to prevent sex selection and adjust male-biased sex ratios. The report noted, “Our empirical analysis of sex ratios at birth five years before and after sex-selective abortion bans were enacted in Illinois and Pennsylvania indicates that the bans were not associated with changes in sex ratios at birth.”

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In fact, “sex-selective abortion bans have had no impact on sex ratios at birth in two states in which they were enacted,” wrote the report’s authors.

Asian American people are not fooled.

Sex-selective bans are extremely harmful. Under the cloak of gender nondiscrimination, HB 1434 offers politicians a way to chip away at the legal right to abortion.

HB 1434 will turn Asian American people seeking reproductive health services into suspects and reproductive health-care providers into investigators. It will force physicians to scrutinize Asian American people out of fear of fines and criminalization, and it will further stigmatize their patients while creating additional barriers to care.

Earlier this year, Arkansas enacted HB 1032, the Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act, a law that allows men to block their partners’ abortions. The state legislature also has continued to push forward and advance anti-transgender legislation. And Gov. Hutchinson has tried in the past to block Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood and attempted to institute an unconstitutional 12-week abortion ban.

Make no mistake about it: Arkansas’ politicians are not fighting for gender equity. They are advancing their own political agenda, without consideration for how it will affect the thousands of Asian American women and families in their state.

While HB 1434 is solely a sex-selection abortion ban, other states—including Illinois, Missouri, Oregon, and Rhode Island—have introduced similar legislation. Some of these bills also include race-selection and genetic anomaly provisions.

Asian American communities are watching. We refuse to be silent as state legislators use false stereotypes and misleading language to deny Asian American women the same access to safe, confidential, and comprehensive reproductive care as anyone else. Not only is it offensive, it is also unconstitutional.

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