Almost two thirds of women seeking abortions come from communities of color, a data point often overlooked in the conversation around a woman’s right to choose.
Last month, a leaked draft of the Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Center appeared on the Website Politico. In the draft, Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion, stating that the 1973 seminal Roe vs. Wade case was “egregiously wrong from the start,” and “must be overruled.”
Some 26 states currently have “trigger laws,” effectively banning legal abortions once the Supreme Court decision is officially announced.
At a May 13 news briefing hosted by Ethnic Media Services, panelists noted the impact of the decision on women of color, particularly AAPI women, who account for 20 percent of those seeking abortions. One in four women in the U.S. have had an abortion.
Speakers included Rep. Judy Chu, D-California; Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington state; Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director of The National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum; Aliza Kazmi, co-executive director, HEART Women and Girls; and John C. Yang, president and executive director, Asian Americans Advancing Justice — AAJC.
Banning abortion will hit most vulnerable hardest
“The people that will bear the burden of these laws are people who can’t afford to go across state lines, who can’t afford to pay whatever it’s going to cost for an abortion,” said Jayapal. “It is not that abortions are going to go away. But safe and legal abortions will go away, and it will be the people who are most vulnerable who are left,” she said.
“Abortion is an issue that happens in every community. There is no community where this is not something that pregnant people are thinking about,” said Jayapal, who herself had an abortion, but did not initially tell her family because of the stigma among Indian Americans.
The congresswoman said it was a difficult but necessary choice she had to make; she finally told her mother and daughter before she wrote an op-ed on the issue.
“We are talking about millions of people across this country whose lives will quite literally be in danger because an extremist court decided to politicize health care. This will be a literal death sentence for millions of people,” said Jayapal.
“When I first read Justice Alito’s draft opinion to overturn Roe versus Wade, I was disgusted, appalled, and heartbroken,” said Chu, in videotaped remarks. “But I was not shocked because Republicans have been telling the American people for decades that they plan to overturn this decision.”
Chu is the lead sponsor of HR 3755, the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would establish in federal statutes the right to receive abortion care. The law would override any Supreme Court ruling limiting access or banning abortion outright and would prohibit any state law that bans abortion.
The House passed HR 3755 last September on a vote of 218 to 211. But the Senate did not pass the measure in a vote taken on May 11. “We knew we were facing an uphill battle because even if we could get 50 Democratic votes, this bill is subject to the filibuster, a tool of segregation that lets the minority block the will of the majority,” said Chu, noting that 61 percent of Americans support choice.
Kazmi of HEART, an organization which advocates for reproductive rights for Muslim American women, noted there are many misconceptions about her community.
More than 56 percent of Muslim Americans support choice, she said. “Reproductive justice is inherently Islamic, as is the idea of reducing harm in communities in regards to our own bodies. In Islamic societies, these decisions were made between the individual, the pregnant person, and their midwife.”
“If there was any consultation with jurists of the state or any other people, it was because the pregnant person invited them. It was not the practice of the state to interfere,” said Kazmi. Muslim women consistently face gendered Islamophobia in trying to access the care that they need, she said. “A lot of times, their providers are not Muslim, and they may hold biases against patients they don’t understand.”
Overturning Roe to hit growing AAPI communities
Choimorrow of NAPAWF noted that 85 percent of AAPI women are pro-choice, but face obstacles when seeking an abortion because of the deep stigma in the AAPI community, language barriers, and low rates of insurance coverage.
“If we really cared about reducing abortion rates, we would need to make contraceptives much more easily available. We would need to make health care affordable and available. We would need to let women have paid leave. And we would need to provide affordable childcare.”
“There are so many other things we can address before we start talking about controlling a woman’s uterus. We have a long way to go to provide support and meaningful ways for all women to thrive, especially women living in low income communities and women of color,” said Choimorrow.
NAPAWF partnered with AAAJ-AJC to write an amicus brief for the Dobbs vs. Jackson’s Women’s Health Center case, which noted the potential impact of overturning Roe on AAPI women.
The Jackson Women’s Health Center is based in Mississippi and is the only facility in the state to provide abortions, noted Yang, adding that AAPI access to terminate a pregnancy in the state is thus extremely limited.
If Roe versus Wade is overturned, in states such as Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina with huge populations of AAPI residents, women would no longer have access to legal abortions, said Yang. “Their ability to make choices about their bodies and reproductive rights, would be significantly, significantly curtailed,” he said.
Yang also noted the precedent the decision would set for rights that extend beyond abortion. “This could eliminate same sex marriage rights, eliminate longstanding rights with respect to the right of education of immigrants, as well as eliminate even Brown versus Board of Education,” he said.