by Julia Tong, AsAmNews staff writer
Mini Timmaraju, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, remembers June 24th, 2022 as a “dark day.” On that date, the conservative Supreme Court overturned the landmark case Roe vs. Wade– removing abortion as a fundamental constitutional right.
“I’m 50 years old, and Roe has been the law of the land my entire life,” said Timmaraju. “I’m now raising kids who will have fewer constitutional rights than I did.”
The results of the Dobbs decision last June have been devastating, activists say. Today, abortion access remains restricted in 22 states, with more challenges across the country. Though the fight for abortion rights has gathered steam nationwide, one group is frequently overlooked: Asian Americans are often disproportionately affected by abortion bans.
In a community briefing titled “One year after Dobbs: Abortion access for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders,” the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) underlined the impact of the Dobbs decision on Asian Americans. Activists highlighted the specific impacts abortion rights restrictions have on AAPIs– and the ways the community is rallying to defend those rights across the country.
“Reproductive justice is an AAPI issue,” says speaker Jen Fang, the founder and editor of Asian American feminist blog Reappropriate.
“I want us to reframe the way we think about AAPI racial justice as something that needs to include abortion access as a major advocacy priority.”
The effect of abortion restrictions on AAPIs
Even before Dobbs, reproductive rights were a central concern for Asian American activists. Though Roe had guaranteed the basic right to abortion, Asian Americans have historically faced barriers accessing abortion, says Timmaraju.
“The access to abortion was the critical piece missing for women of color, marginalized communities, limited English proficient communities, immigrant communities, etc.” she says. “And AAPI’s sit squarely in the intersections of many of those identities.”
As a result, per Timmaraju, AAPI activists viewed Roe as “always the floor, not the ceiling” of reproductive rights. And the loss of that “floor,” she says, created “dystopian” effects. As states restricted abortion in the year post-Dobbs, maternal deaths increased, doctors left states with restrictive abortion bans, and standards for reproductive and maternal care for all women decreased.
But even in this environment, Asian Americans are uniquely affected, advocates with NAPAWF say.
Many of the states with the highest populations of AAPIs, such as Texas, also have abortion restrictions. In fact, per NAPAWF, more than a quarter of AAPI women between the ages 15 to 49 live in states where abortion is severely restricted or banned.
However, AAPIs are not a monolith. In NAPAWF’s briefing, speakers explored the ways abortion bans disproportionately affected different populations within the community.
For instance, South Asians are the largest Asian American community impacted. The majority of Burmese women will be affected by abortion restrictions. And furthermore, one-third of Tongan and other Pacific Islander women live in states with abortion restrictions. And those who live in Guam or the U.S. Pacific Islands, who have little to no access to local abortion case services, were especially affected.
Socioeconomic background is another significant differentiator. Asian Americans are disproportionately represented in low page and service jobs– and a third of low income Asian American women live in a state where abortion is banned or severely limited.
Those women may not have resources to take time off work and travel out of state for an abortion. Furthermore, many low income AAPIs are immigrants, who, due to language barriers, may not have access to information about abortion care.
“There are many API’s who are low wage or service workers who really rely on strong access to abortion care, through many different clinics that service low wage or low income communities,” says Fang. “We really need to visualize those impacts specifically in the AAPI community.”
Finally, abortion restrictions also have devastating effects on women experiencing interpersonal partner violence (IPV), says Shivana Jorawar. As the Founding Member and Co-Director of Jahajee Sisters, an organization advocating for the end of IPV and sexual violence among Indo-Caribbeans in NYC, Jorawar is sharply aware of how abortion bans disproportionately affect South Asian women experiencing IPV.
Abortion bans, Jorawar points out, give abusers another tool to exert control over their partners. By forcing their partners to become pregnant, abusers can entrap their victims in a violent relationship– and tether the victim to the abuser, even after the relationship ends.
This connection between abortion access and IPV extends to the South Asian community too. Per Jorawar, approximately 39% of South Asians in abusive relationships reported experiencing an unwanted pregnancy due to a lack of reproductive healthcare.
“That is a big number, and it should concern us,” she says.
However, Jorawar also drew connections to the broader landscape of violence– gendered, racial, and classist– that affects AAPIs everyday. It’s no coincidence, she says, that Dobbs comes during a time of steep racial rhetoric.
“Attacks on abortion are not just attacks on abortion,” says Jowarar.
“Abortion restrictions are meant to keep people powerless and in their place. Abortion bans are racial violence, abortion bans, or gender based violence, and abortion bans are class warfare.”
“We are going to be the ones to save ourselves”
In the year post-Dobbs, abortion rights still remain a battleground. Some states, like Illinois and New York, proactively passed legislation protecting reproductive rights and abortion. However, states like Florida, Texas, and Georgia have introduced legislation that will increasingly restrict abortion access.
Despite this contentious atmosphere, one thing remains clear: a majority of AAPIs support abortion rights.
A study by PEW found that 74% of Asian Americans support abortion– the highest across all racial groups. Furthermore, Seri Lee, the National Campaign and Membership Director for NAPAWF, observed that 77% of AAPIs in Texas are in favor of legalizing abortion; 41% of South Asian voters in Texas named abortion rights as a top issue.
This broad support for abortion rights is a source of hope, says Timmaraju. The Dobbs decision sparked organizing across the nation, as many Asian Americans banded together to resist restrictive abortion laws.
“[The Dobbs decision is] mostly horrific, but if there can be a silver lining, it’s that more Americans than ever are with us,” says Timmaraju. “And that includes AAPIs.”
Today, organizations such as NAPAWF are still at the frontlines of the fight for abortion access. NAPAWF collaborates with a variety of organizations across the country– including those concerned with criminal justice, civil rights, labor, voting rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, among others– to develop state-specific strategies to protect abortion access.
But the most important factor remains grassroots organizing– often helmed by the AAPIs affected by restrictive abortion laws.
Speaker May Thach, the Florida Organizing Manager for NAPAWF, recently helmed a successful effort to protect abortion rights in St. Petersburg, Florida. Following Dobbs, the state had passed a 6 week abortion ban– which essentially amounted to a total abortion ban. Organizers, Thach said, immediately realized they had to act.
The solution was a ballot initiative, in conjunction with other reproductive justice organizations. Advocates worked with City Council members to push for a resolution to ensure that the city won’t spend funds criminalizing anyone accessing abortions.
To pass the initiative, NAPAWF mobilized local citizens– including Asian Americans– to share their stories at City Council meetings, participate in a letter campaign, and express why abortion access was important to them. They underlined the specific barriers AAPIs faced in access abortions, such as cultural stigmas or language barriers.
The campaign garnered over 250,000 petitioners. And the result was a notable victory: The resolution passed the City Council on April 6th.
“What we’re fighting for is not unpopular,” she says. “What we’re fighting for are popular issues that everyone cares about. And most people want it to happen.”
For Thach, the fight is not over. July 1st marks when many of the restrictive bills passed during the last legislative sessions will come into effect. As a result, Thach says, it is increasingly important to support the community– and send a message to legislators that they will continue to resist abortion restriction laws.
“We’re not going to sit here and let them just take away our rights,” she says.
“Whether they like it or not, we’re still going to keep fighting. We’re going to make sure that everyone here is taken care of, and that we are going to be the ones to save ourselves.”
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