Sex Selective Abortion Bans Target Asian American and Pacific Islander Women Based on Racist Stereotypes


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“One method of destroying a concept is by diluting its meaning.” 

I first came across this quote by Ayn Rand during my first year in an intro to philosophy class. It is impossible not to notice how the debate about abortion has been dominated by conversations that apotheosize protecting the life of the fetus, vilifying the individuals fighting for basic human rights. These laws do not exist to determine whether personhood can be attached to a zygote but rather a sadistic attempt to criminalize women’s sexual autonomy. The American right utilizes emotionally charged phrases like “abortion is murder” to justify their desire to entrench maximalist control over women’s reproductive freedom. Observe that by ascribing rights to the unborn—i.e. the nonliving, the anti-abortionists obliterate the rights of the living. 

The rise of a nationwide legislative binge against women’s reproductive rights highlights the state’s violence and the legal system inflicts on women’s bodies. Women of colour are expected to be treated in a health care system with a history of control, coercion, and lack of agency in decision-making over their bodies.

Access to safe, legal abortions is more critical for AAPI, especially when considering the pervasive health disparities.

This is the story of Purvi Patel and Bei Bei Shuai. Purvi Patel—Indiana resident, was arrested on account of taking abortifacient pills to put an end to her unwanted pregnancy. 

Similarly, Chinese immigrant Bei Bei Shuai attempted an attack on her own life, resulting in the loss of her pregnancy.  It is not lost upon us that both these women are of Asian descent. Anti-choice activists’ pursuit of policing personal family planning decisions for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women is based on false racial stereotypes. Sensationalizing stories of gender-based abortion in India and China to influence American legislation to criminalize Asian Americans has resulted in racially biased abortion bans. Senator Liz Brown has stated in a hearing, “Those cultures don’t value women here in the United States, we do not subscribe to that judgment.” Here in the United States Senator Brown, women in the military are more likely to be raped by fellow soldiers than they are to be killed in combat. Here in the United States, women are still paid less than their male counterparts for the same job. Here in the United States, an 11-year-old cannot choose to terminate a forced pregnancy to save her life. 

Sex-selective abortion bans have been deemed unconstitutional, yet lawmakers show complete disregard for legal precedence. Legislation like HB5  is dangerous to the wellbeing of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women. Restricting access to fundamental healthcare over the false notion that AAPI women prefer male babies over female babies is unconstitutional. If this statue is successful,  it will establish that elected officials hold the rule of law and the livelihood of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women to minimal importance. This ban paves an uncomfortable road of racial profiling of AAPI women across the nation. 

The attacks on the AAPI community need to stop. Elected officials claim they intend to prevent feticide from these racist bans yet sit idly by in the face of femicide when Asian women are massacred in Atlanta—the irony is not lost upon us.

The AAPI community demands our local legislators to listen without any preconceived notion and provide us with a culturally and linguistically inclusive health care system.

Women from the AAPI community have a significantly higher risk when abortion restrictions are executed due to the intersecting forms of oppression they face regularly. Sex-selective abortion bans are deceiving. It is painfully obvious that it intends to limit women’s agency over their bodies hiding behind laws falsely touted as protecting women. The government must be made aware that the world is watching the disturbing pattern of criminalizing women of colour and their bodies. It is imperative that Asian American immigrants have access to culturally sensitive resources that help them safely exercise their reproductive rights and quality mental health care.

Photo Credit:  Mario Tama featured in    Vogue

Photo Credit: Mario Tama featured in Vogue

Pro-lifers are not lying when they say they believe life begins at conception. They are entitled to their beliefs, but the belief ends at the borders of someone else’s body. While there is no present answer about whether a fetus is a person, a woman’s personhood is not debatable. Following that thought, we conclude that fetal personhood will always have to yield to female personhood. Bodily autonomy supersedes life every time. Being truly pro-life would entail advocating for better foster care, working to end capital punishment, demanding stronger gun control, lifting women out of generational poverty and providing comprehensive sex education. 

The struggle for abortion rights is inextricably linked to the fight for women’s liberation, to the struggle against male ownership of women’s bodies and to the desire to dismantle the patriarchy. Women are not incubators or natural resources to use per the state’s desire. They are not shapeless objects to be moulded in accordance with men’s desires. This treatment turns women into inconsequential beings in a phallocentric society.

Restricting abortions has never prevented abortions from taking place; it will only leave women vulnerable and desperate to seek out dangerous solutions.

From the government of Texas to Indiana to every anti-choice elected official, your abortion bans in the name of protecting the life of the unborn is seen for what they are — proverbial wolves in sheep’s clothing. Stop imprisoning women with their bodies. Stop weaponizing your misogynistic and racist opinions to punish women. While the courts deliberate, women across the nation are imploring legislators to understand the risk they are putting women, in particular women of colour, with these onerous laws. Our judicial system is built on institutional racism. It will come as no surprise when women of colour are convicted with harsher sentences than their white counterparts. We owe Purvi Patel and Bei Bei Shuai a society in which a woman’s relationship with her body is her own and in which no woman has to justify or explain taking control of it. 

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

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