Commentary Abortion

Missouri’s Quiet, Racist Battle to Take Reproductive Rights From Asian American and Pacific Islander Women

Sung Yeon Choimorrow

Sex-selective abortion bans are racist, dangerous, and have no place in our society, so we have to keep fighting them wherever they are introduced.

Politicians in Missouri are quietly advancing an attack on the health and rights of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women—and it’s time to sound the alarm. HB 1867, a bill sponsored by state Rep. Shamed Dogan (R-Ballwin), bans abortion for certain women based on their reason for ending the pregnancy, including for women who end a pregnancy due to sex preference. This legislation has nothing to do with the health or well-being of women and girls; instead, it’s a smokescreen to hide an extreme anti-choice agenda. Already, eight states ban abortion for reason of sex selection, and the introduction and passage of these bills have been accompanied by a flood of anti-Asian and anti-immigrant rhetoric intended to shame and blame AAPI women for our decisions about pregnancy.

This is part of a national strategy. In 2017 alone, politicians in 19 states adopted 63 new restrictions on abortion rights and access according to the Guttmacher Institute. This trend has continued in 2018, as legislators have passed bills that not only made it harder for a woman to have an abortion, but also to receive pertinent information that she needs to make decisions about her pregnancy and reproductive health. State lawmakers often move these bills quickly and quietly to avoid public debate and opposition, which is exactly what’s happening in Missouri, where both houses of the general assembly as well as the governor’s office are currently controlled by anti-choice Republicans.

We cannot be silent as our health and our communities are threatened.

Sex-selective abortion bans operate on the racist assumption that Asian immigrants in the United States will exhibit the same sex preferences for male children that may have existed in their countries of origin. The impetus behind this legislation is that Asian American womenin particular, immigrant Chinese and Indian women—will prefer sons over daughters and make reproductive care decisions based on the sex of their child. Not only is this an outdated and dangerously xenophobic belief, it is downright false. In fact, analysis from the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum has shown that foreign-born Chinese American, Korean American, and Indian American women are having more daughters than white American women, on average.

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The federal counterpart to HB 1867 and its ilk is the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA) of 2017, legislation introduced in the last few sessions of Congress. PRENDA, which has not yet been made law, would ban abortion based on the sex or race of the child. The bill’s text includes several false and offensive claims including that women in the United States are utilizing sex-selective abortion practices “consistent with discriminatory practices common to their country of origin, or the country to which they trace their ancestry.” No evidence for this claim is provided.

Time and time again, anti-choice legislators have chosen fearmongering and irresponsible public health policy over the well-being of women—especially women of color. Lawmakers are pushing these bills because they think no one is watching. But we can’t let this happen.

Legislation like HB 1867 is just one part of a larger strategy to restrict abortion access and control the reproductive decisions being made by women in Missouri and across the country. Former Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), who has sponsored sex-selective abortion bans in Congress, specifically said on his website, “I have made it one of my priorities in public office to fight for the end of abortion on demand.”

Missouri has already enacted a number of medically baseless restrictions on abortion. Before obtaining an abortion, a woman is forced to listen to scripted “counseling” that includes information designed to discourage her from having an abortion, and then is forced to delay care for 72 hours before the procedure. In practice, this means a woman must make an extra appointment, taking more time off work and away from her family. Health insurance coverage for abortion is banned or highly restricted in both public and private insurance, and the use of telemedicine technology to provide abortion—which could be a game-changer for women living in rural areas—is banned outright.

Legislators who truly care about ending discrimination against women could and should use their time and resources to advance legislation that promotes women’s rights, for example, by ensuring equal pay, paid parental leave, and affordable child care, for a start. Yet the voting records expose the truth. Politicians who push for abortion bans do next to nothing to promote equality and advancement for women and girls—they’re not fooling anyone.

Sex-selective abortion bans are racist, dangerous, and have no place in our society, so we have to keep fighting them wherever they are introduced. It’s 2018. Asian American and Pacific Islander women need more access to reproductive health care, not less. We certainly don’t need abortion bans accompanied by tired tropes and racist rhetoric. If we are to move the needle forward on this conversation, we must start by empowering women to make decisions about their own reproductive health—without state lawmakers standing in the way.

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