A Win Against Racist, Sex-Selective Abortion Bans

Ms Foundation grantee NAPAWF
National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum

For years, Ms. Foundation grantee National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) has advocated against anti-abortion laws that spread negative racial stereotypes about Asian Americans. NAPAWF achieved a historic policy win in this fight when, in September 2014, San Francisco passed the first resolution in the country opposing “sex-selective abortion bans” that target Asian American and Pacific Islander women.

NAPAWF has played a critical role in informing the public about the dangers of these bans, and several NAPAWF leaders testified at the hearing where the proactive measure was passed. The resolution is the first of its kind nationwide to oppose sex selective abortion bans. This type of ban is a threat to reproductive rights everywhere. Twenty-one states and the United States Congress have proposed such bans, and eight states have succeeded in enacting them.

Sex-selective abortion bans target Asian American and Pacific Islander women because they are based on a stereotype that Asian-Americans in particular practice cultural norms of elevating the social status of men and therefore favor male children. The bans prohibit abortions due to the sex of the fetus and penalize doctors who perform them with fines or other punishments. Advocates for such bans claim that they are reacting to the problem of discrimination against girls. Yet research has found that Asian Americans actually have more girls that white native-born Americans. Such bans also add another obstacle for women choosing to exercise their reproductive rights.

“The real goal of this legislation is banning all abortions. Asian Americans are being used for the conservative agenda and turned into collateral damage,” said NAPAWF Executive Director Miriam Yeung. “No woman should ever be scrutinized or interrogated by her doctor based on cultural background, and that is what these bans promote.” Yeung also noted that such policies interfere with the doctor-patient relationship, undermining health care and increasing health disparities.

“These laws just place another unnecessary burden on those who provide abortion and the women who seek those services. Sex-selective abortion bans do nothing to address the root cause of sexism,” said Dr. Sophia Yen, who is an adolescent medicine specialist and pediatrician.

“The rhetoric used by legislators advocating these measures is perpetuating racial stereotypes, is deeply offensive and can lead to the denial of health care services to women,” said San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu (D), who introduced the successful resolution.

NAPAWF Chicago Chapter Members
Left to right: Marissa Vichayapai (Seattle Chapter);Rizalyn Vargas (DC Chapter); S. Nadia Hussain(National Governing Board Member); Avani Mody (Bay Area Chapter);Donna Quach (Seattle Chapter);Gracelynne West (San Diego Chapter); Tagoipah Mathno (Seattle Chapter); Leakhena ‘Lyk’ Yoeun (Chicago Chapter)

The San Francisco resolution against sex-selective bans is a proactive stance against the rise of these laws. To be clear, the people behind sex-selective abortion laws are not working toward gender equality. Their goal is to ban abortion, and they are using stereotypes that promote racial profiling in order to do so.

In order to truly achieve gender equality, feminists must work for reproductive justice that ensures all women have access to reproductive health care and the agency to make independent choices without facing added scrutiny. Thanks to the courage of NAPAWF, Asian American and Pacific Islander women are taking back the narrative about their personal reproductive health decisions and making strides toward full reproductive justice.Beyond its instrumental work to pass the resolution in San Francisco, NAPAWF is organizing and raising awareness nationwide. In 2014, NAPAWF published Replacing Myths with Facts: Sex Selective Abortion Laws in the United States, which dispels myths about this growing attack on women’s health and the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. NAPAWF is also in the midst of a lawsuit against the State of Arizona for its version of a racist sex-selective abortion ban, with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as its counsel and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as co-plaintiffs. The case is currently being challenged in the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

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