An Asian American lens of reproductive rights
Posted by Ollie T
December 15, 2022
The rise in anti-Asian hate crimes brings increased attention to Asian American issues
The term ‘Asian American’ was coined by Asian graduate students, Emma Gee and Yuji Ichioka, during a critical point in time for social justice movements in the sixties. Gee and Ichioka saw the importance of collective solidarity in Asian American civil rights, borne out of necessity and the realization that non-Asian Americans often fail to recognize sub-group differences, mistaking one ethnicity for another and making broad assumptions across all ethnicities. A horrific example of this was during the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II, when non-Japanese Asian Americans were required to wear badges denoting their ethnicity, or risk being lumped in among the Japanese Americans relocated to internment camps. While collective solidarity continues to be essential for the survival of Asian Americans, some unforeseen impacts are the ways in which it has influenced how researchers and healthcare providers approach the needs and issues of Asian Americans.
A health equity researcher noted that Asian Americans are the most understudied among the racial minority groups. Only 0.17% of the National Institute of Health’s research budget incorporates Asian American participants. In addition, due to the lack of research addressing the needs of Asian American communities, oftentimes the results of Asian American research lumps over 30 Asian countries together, effectively erasing the individual ethnicities that may have sub-group specific needs. This blatant lack of interest in Asian American issues impacts the daily lives of our communities. How can we expect the care that we deserve when researchers and healthcare providers don’t show interest in our needs? As demonstrated by the atrocities that have been committed during the pandemic, anti-Asian racism is more than just ignorance and prejudice. Health service researchers found that 13% of Asian American adults reported discrimination in healthcare encounters. In addition, Asian Americans were more likely than whites to avoid healthcare due to fear of discrimination. These numbers likely vary further when thinking about sub-group differences, and when taking into account factors such as primary language spoken, class, education, and colorism. While these findings are alarming, they are further exacerbated in the context of reproductive care access for Asian Americans and the policing of reproductive rights by conservative lawmakers.
Since Roe v. Wade was overturned, it has been a somber time for reproductive justice, especially in knowing that what’s to come disproportionately impacts low-income communities and communities of color. Among the legislation introduced by conservative parties to further police reproductive healthcare, a genuine concern for Asian American communities voiced by advocates is the fear that more racially-motivated restrictions will be introduced, similar to the ban on sex-selective abortions. The sex-selective abortion ban has been on the legislative table since 2009, and is in effect in 11 states. This ban permits abortion providers to deny and report abortions if the provider suspects a patient of showing preference for one sex over the other. This ban uniquely affects Asian American communities as there is a harmful stereotypical belief that an Asian parent would prefer a male fetus over a female fetus, with uniquely complex issues from Asian nations such as China’s infamous one-child policy likely attributing to this misconception. Disguised as a well-intended policy, the subjective nature of the ban puts Asian American abortion users at risk of racial profiling, especially when noting that in 2022, 33% of Americans believe that Asian Americans are more loyal to their country of origin than to the United States, an alarming 13 percent increase since the previous year. With Roe v. Wade overturned, other states may strongly consider introducing the sex-selective abortion ban.
The sex-selective abortion ban is only one of few major concerns facing Asian American reproductive healthcare users. Jenn Fang, a writer for Prism, thoughtfully calls to attention the ways that the reproductive justice movement leaves Asian American abortion service users behind, citing that research suggests a third of Asian American pregnancies end in abortion. In addition, Fang also notes that Asian Americans are the only racial group where the usage of abortion services have not changed in over 15 years. Despite these known factors, healthcare providers often fail to offer culturally competent care. Research shows that while cultural competency within healthcare spaces have been proven to be an asset in eliminating health disparities among marginalized populations, the reality is that a majority of healthcare providers do not receive adequate training when it comes to culturally competent care.
While xenophobic attitudes towards Asian Americans are on the rise, it should also be noted that Asian American communities are the fastest growing racial group within the country, and the recent mid-terms have demonstrated that conservatives are beginning to recognize the weight of Asian American votes. Racist political ads sent to North Carolina Asian American voters during midterms read: “Now Hiring: Must be Black or Latinx. Whites and Asians need not apply” and “Joe Biden and Left-Wing officials are engaged in widespread racial discrimination against White and Asian Americans,” exercising a tired white supremacist tactic with the intention of pitting communities of color against one another. This divisive tactic continues to be replayed, as affirmative action once again enters public discourse with SCOTUS in the mix. With Asian American votes being a desirable driving force that could have a significant impact on election results, this may be promising for reproductive rights advocates. A survey by the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum reported that 74% of AAPI respondents are proponents of Roe V. Wade, 66% are in support of a federal law protecting abortion rights, and 58% voice dissatisfaction in the recent restrictions on reproductive access.
Asian American issues are reproductive justice issues. As the rights of the marginalized continue to remain under attack in this country, remember to save a seat for Asian Americans – all Asian Americans. Unless the reproductive justice movement centers the most marginalized communities in the fight for reproductive rights, reproductive liberation will remain out of reach. Whether or not Asian American communities are made to feel welcome or understood in this country, we continue to be essential members within our collective communities. We need to be included in the fight for reproductive justice, and you need us at the polls. Most importantly, we need all of us working in solidarity to get free.
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