Abortion is the kind of issue you can lose friends over, it is the kind of issue that leads to never ending arguments from both sides of the spectrum. People fight against the right to have abortion, simply citing religious beliefs.
The problem is, it isn’t simple, not by a long-shot. The right to have an abortion is not important to me because it is a woman’s right to have control over her body, nor is it the right to “terminate a life.” The right to have an abortion is a right to equity, it is the right to choice and is a right to allow a woman to make the best decision she can about her situation without handing over the reigns to the judgment of others to make that decision on her behalf, often against concerns for her own safety.
Today, Asian and Pacific Islander (API) women are undoubtedly affected by limitations on our “right to choose.” First, insurance coverage bans prevent poor and low-income API women from being able to afford the procedure. This forces many of our sisters, especially those from disadvantaged communities like the Hmong, Bangladeshi, Vietnamese and Cambodian communities, to struggle with difficult decisions— do I make my rent payment this month, or take care of my health? Second, there are bills being considered that target API women and would make getting an abortion harder for us by criminalizing doctors for “sex selective abortions.” Of course, API women are the ones proponents claim are choosing such abortions, since it happens widely in some Asian countries. This law would mean we could be denied abortion care because a doctor assumes we are choosing to abort a female fetus, simply because of our ethnicity. This is not new legislation, there has been similar legislation promoting racist stereotypes for years. Have you heard of the deceptively named “Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act”? It failed in the U.S. House, but similar versions are being proposed in the states.
What scares me is the prospect that API women in the U.S. will meet the same fate Savita Halappanavar did. Savita was an Indian woman who died after being refused an abortion to terminate her life-threatening pregnancy. Savita was an API woman in Ireland, but API women in this country could face similar fates if the right to have an abortion is taken out of their hands.
The right to have an abortion is also important to me because I know banning abortions will not prevent them from occurring. It will only drive them underground, where equity in terms of choice will be vanquished. It will go back to the good old days, where rich, mostly Caucasian women who wanted an abortion could get one discreetly by arranging a visit from a doctor, while poor women and women of color were either forced to have a baby or get dangerous abortion procedures in back alleys. The undeniable truth is when abortions were illegal they were still happening. When it comes down to it, the attacks on reproductive health we are seeing would ensure that privileged women have access to abortions while poor women, including a high number of women of color will NOT have that access.
Moreover, I believe that there needs to be emphasis on contraception—even from those that claim the ‘pro-life” label. Did you know that according to the Guttmacher Institute, global abortion rates have fallen in countries that have had legalized abortion for years? Western and Northern Europe has had legal abortion for decades and widespread access to contraception use. These areas now have the lowest abortion rates in the world. Many anti-choice movements are against abortion access and comprehensive sex education, with little or no emphasis on contraception. This kind of mentality would only increase unwanted pregnancies and abortions. This kind of mentality could put women’s lives at risk.
Abortion rights are women’s rights, social and economic equity, and women’s health. If you support those three things, then you can understand the value of the right to an abortion and see why it is imperative that it be kept legal, safe, and accessible.
Nadia Hussain is a Bangladeshi American activist, poet, blogger and photographer with a passion for human rights work and progressive politics. She lives in Oakland, CA, where she works with refugee and emerging API communities.