OP-ED: Stop scapegoating Asian American culture to justify bans on ‘sex-selective’ abortions

Negar Esfandiari
New York Daily News (TNS)
Anti-abortion marchers and some abortion-rights supporters at the U.S. Supreme Court on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade in January 2005. (Pete Souza/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Right now, the New York City Council has an opportunity to be a leader for abortion access — by denouncing state legislators’ attempts to use racist stereotypes to push abortion out of reach for Asian American and Pacific Islander women.

Last March, Assemblyman Marcos Crespo introduced the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act, legislation that would penalize any medical provider who performs an abortion based on the sex, gender, color or race of the fetus. Eight states have already passed laws banning “sex-selective” abortions based at least in part on a debunked racist stereotype that Asian and Pacific Islander women prefer sons.

I am a woman, and I probably wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for abortion. Generations of women in my family have relied on the power of deciding if and when to have a child in order to live their safest and most fulfilling lives. These women have been born into war zones and known escape as a home. They have persevered through political, religious and social unrest while growing up. For us — Iranian Americans, Asian Americans, immigrants — conflict is almost always guaranteed. But despite this, we have always fought to protect the futures of those who will come after us.

Without abortion, I don’t know if women in my family would have survived their circumstances while pregnant. Without abortion, I don’t know if starting a family would have been possible later on.

Bills like Crespo’s are a ploy by anti-abortion lawmakers to push their agenda and make it harder for marginalized communities like mine to access vital health care with dignity. Treating us like “perpetual foreigners” who never truly become American serves only their interests and pushes us further into these shadows and buries us underneath their own false narrative about us. To them, we are just a stereotype, a concept to compartmentalize while steamrolling the realities of our lived experiences.

But to me, we are different. Diasporic. A whole spectrum of intertwined experiences that spans gender, race, ethnicity, class, immigration status, sexuality, culture and more. And we are here to tell our own stories to shatter stereotypes because our version is the truth.

These abortion restrictions become even more insulting when politicians justify them under the cover of trying to “save” Asian and Pacific Islander girls. I don’t need to be saved. I want to cry out that my community celebrates me. I want to look these politicians in the eye and say, “I’m not here because of an accident.”

If this bill were to become law, a person could be denied an abortion if they are merely suspected of seeking it for a particular reason, regardless of their reality, their story, their truth. No one should have to justify to anyone else their reasons for wanting an abortion. To profile us and ask that of us is a strike on our dignity.

Asian and Pacific Islander women, and every single person seeking an abortion, should be able to do so without confronting racial profiling. Yet even in liberal New York, PRENDA legislation has been introduced every year since 2011.

The city should take a stand — by passing legislation to denounce restrictions on our reproductive autonomy under false, racist pretenses.

I am my family’s first-born child, and my gender had nothing to do with their decision to raise me at the time they did. But it had everything to do with the fact that they were in a safe, stable position. That they had access to the services and resources they needed to raise a child. That it was safe to continue with a pregnancy.

My family isn’t the exception, and neither am I.

— Negar Esfandiari is an Iranian American organizer and activist based in Brooklyn, N.Y. She serves on the leadership team for the NYC chapter of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.