This week, the Senate Law and Justice Committee voted to pass Senate Bill 6612, the so-called “Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act,” out of committee. This law would ban sex-selective abortions in Washington by criminalizing doctors who provide abortions based on the sex of the fetus. The ban sounds well-intentioned, but as Asian-American women who have worked on gender rights issues for decades, we are deeply concerned that this bill chips away at a woman’s constitutional right to abortion and birth control while simultaneously fueling false stereotypes about Asian-American women.
Bills such as SB 6612 have been introduced in various state legislatures across the country, and unfortunately the testimony presented has relied heavily on false stereotypes that Asian-Americans do not value girls. The intent section of Washington's SB 6612 cites examples of skewed sex ratios in China and India to justify its existence, rather than data from Washington or any state in the U.S. The way the bill is crafted, and the testimony of individuals who quote these kinds of statistics incorrectly, harmfully suggests that immigrants from Asian countries bring sex-selective practices with them. For example, after referencing several statistics from various Asian countries, Angela Connelly, president of the Washington Women’s Network, said on Tuesday, “We are a nation that is multicultural and that is a great thing. It is a strength, BUT we will not allow sex discrimination or discrimination against women and girls in any form in this nation."
Yet, there is simply no evidence that sex-selective abortions are happening widely in the United States. In fact, Asian-American families are actually giving birth to more girls than white American families. We learned this when University of Chicago Law School researchers released a report that identified and disproved the myths used to advance these deceptive bills.
In fact, many Asian-American immigrant families are attracted to the United States because they value their daughters and want more opportunities for them. The two authors of this editorial are here because of that very belief.
While son preference is a serious problem in some other countries, using baseless stigma to create unnecessary barriers to accessing reproductive health care does nothing to promote the rights of women and girls in India, China, or in the United States.
The use of racial stereotypes to stop access to abortion in the U.S., or to pass any other law, is harmful and must be firmly rejected. Consider what could happen if Washington state passed a sex-selective abortion ban. Out of fear of being criminalized, doctors could scrutinize the decisions of Asian-American women in ways other women are not subject to, and possibly even deny them care. For a woman with a language barrier in states where this is the law, a simple misunderstanding can result in denial of care. Far from protecting women, this law suggests that Asian-American women are heavily involved in barbaric sex-selection practices rather than making considered, careful, and thoughtful choices about their own bodies like any other women.
This bill is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, even if unintended in that way. Some lawmakers claim to be protecting the rights of women and girls but passing this bill would actually decrease women’s access to health care. Instead, lawmakers who want to make Asian-American women and families’ lives better should instead prioritize equal pay for women, paid sick and safe leave for all working women and families, and raising the minimum wage statewide. Washington state legislators should join cities like San Francisco and Oakland, which have passed resolutions taking strong stands against these discriminatory sex-selection abortion bans.
Even those who oppose abortion should be able to stand in opposition to these attacks on women because this legislation promotes unjust and harmful stereotypes. We oppose this bill because it demonizes our cultures and discriminates rather than protects. And our hope is that by educating our communities on this deeply problematic, baseless legislation, we will help prevent the passage of this bill and other future bills based on harmful stereotypes rather than fact.
Pramila Jayapal represents the 37th District in the Washington State Senate and is an immigrant from India. She is currently running for the 7th Congressional District. Miriam Yeung is the executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum and an immigrant from Hong Kong.