by Akemi Tamanaha, AsAmNews Associate Editor
A new study examining the sexual and reproductive health experiences of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) women found that more than half of respondents did not know how to access medicated abortion.
The study was conducted by two non-profit organizations National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum and Ibis Reproductive Health. It surveyed “1,500
people of reproductive age between 16-49 who identified as a woman, transgender, non-binary or gender expansive.” Researchers also conducted qualitative interviews with respondents as a part of the study.
The AANHPI community is one of the fastest-growing demographics in the country. Isra Pananon Weeks, interim executive director of NAPAWF, believes it is important to do more research on social issues from an AANHPI perspective.
“Oftentimes, I personally feel like we’re left out of the conversation. So it’s really important for us to do studies like this to represent an AANHPI lens,” Weeks said in an interview with AsAmNews.
The study revealed that the AANHPI community had limited knowledge about medicated abortions. According to findings, 35% of respondents said they had never heard of medicated abortions. Nearly half (47%) said they did not know where to get a medicated abortion if they needed one.
In qualitative interviews, many respondents said that they had “negative imagery associated” with procedural abortions, which are administered by a medical provider who uses instruments to remove the fetus.
“I’ve only heard that the medication exists, and I don’t know much about the
side effects. But when I heard about it, I think I was personally relieved…if you
watch movies or TV, there are so many abortions that are shown to be so
violent… So if I have to make a decision like that, I would definitely choose
medication. You can do it privately in your private room and you just
swallow [pills],” said a participant named Jung Soo, whose response was translated from Korean.
A “dearth” of language options, the study said, is also detrimental.
“The lack of available language options and clinics and just broadly around the information that’s available for AANHPI communities was one of the larger barriers that emerged in our findings,” Katherine Key, a senior research manager at Ibis Reproductive Health and one of the lead researchers on the study, told AsAmNews.
Key said that poor language access and cultural stigma coupled together contributed to the lack of knowledge and awareness around medicated abortion. The study found that 37% of respondents listed personal religious or moral concerns as a barrier to accessing abortion.
Participants in the qualitative interviews also described stigma surrounding discussions about sex and reproductive health.
“Both my parents just scared me away from sex at all. So I was a pretty late
bloomer in life because of it, but those were the values that I grew up with,
very anti-abortion, very anti-sex, no relationships because your only
relationship should be with God,” a participant named Emmy said.
Weeks noted that growing up she also did not discuss sex and reproductive health with her parents. She was forced to wait until high school for a more comprehensive education.
“We need to have these conversations earlier,” Weeks said.
In an effort to reach different communities, NAPAWF and Ibis worked with community organizations so thorough research could be conducted in multiple languages. Key believes a similar strategy could be the key to improving access to reproductive health services.
“I think one way to really start working on building out culturally competent educational materials is to be in communication and working closely with these organizations that are already involved with these communities really deeply,” Key said.
NAPAWF and Ibis Reproductive Health say their most recent study is the first of its kind but the research shouldn’t stop there.
“I think one large gap in our study was that weren’t able to recruit anyone who identified as Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander for the interviews, so even just starting there to get a much more in-depth view of their experiences, accessing medication, abortion,” Key said.
There is also a need for more disaggregated data on the AANHPI communities. Weeks said the push for better data existed during the Obama administration but now, almost 10 years later, leaders are having the same conversations.
“I think, you know, we are doing the work now. I’m proud to work for an organization that like really walks the walk, but it’s, it’s slow going. So I think people are starting to realize that we really need to invest in this,” Weeks said.
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