A Ban By Another Name

Bans on sex-selective abortions—abortions performed due to the sex of the fetus—have gained sweeping popularity in the United States among antiabortion legislators in recent years. To date, ten states have passed this legislation, with the law effective and enforceable in eight of these states. Suchitra Dalvie’s article “A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing” in the last issue of Conscience illustrates why bans like these are so problematic.

Supporters of these bans rely heavily on xenophobic rhetoric suggesting that Asian immigrants to the United States import “backwards,” gender-biased cultures that favor the birth of sons—thus perpetuating anti-immigrant sentiment and negative stereotypes about AAPI women. This misguided notion is completely false: there is no evidence that Asian American women in the United States are seeking abortions due to son preference. Asian American women actually have higher birth rates for female babies than do other races.

Sex-selective abortion bans target and lead to discrimination against AAPI women and may also lead medical providers and law enforcement to make dangerous assumptions about the pregnancy outcomes of AAPI women. Essentially, sex-selective abortion bans give doctors or politicians the power to prescribe what constitutes a “good reason” for a woman to seek an abortion, stripping away autonomy from women of color.

As a person of faith, I staunchly believe that all people should have full agency over their bodies and be respected for the decisions they make. I support a woman’s right to access safe and legal abortion, because recognizing women’s ability to make decisions about their bodies is one way that we respect another human being; attacking women and controlling our bodies fundamentally goes against the Christian teachings of love. When lawmakers conjure up myths about the AAPI community to further their antichoice efforts, they are not concerned about the “sanctity of life,” but rather a political agenda that they are willing to push with any means, even if it potentially puts vulnerable AAPI women at risk.

Thus, sex-selective abortion bans cannot be viewed as solely an issue of abortion access; they must be regarded as an intersectional problem that enables racial prejudice and discrimination to restrict access to reproductive health for AAPI women. To address these abortion bans without centering the racial implications of these laws pushes AAPI women and the dangerous stereotypes they live with into the shadows, rendering them invisible in conversations of how to empower women of color to make decisions about their bodies and their lives.

Executive Director, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum
Chicago, IL

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