Sung Yeon Choimorrow is executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF).
This weekend, Americans across the nation are marching for justice — by speaking out for abortion rights.
Reproductive justice faces greater peril now than at any moment in the past half-century. Antiabortion bills sweeping the country threaten the life and liberty of every person who can get pregnant. But some people will suffer more than others. Low-income Americans will suffer. People of color will suffer. Immigrant, and especially undocumented, Americans will suffer. And at the intersection of these communities lies one marginalized group that is often overlooked: Asian Americans.
Too many of our fellow Americans assume the Asian American and Pacific Islander community is the model minority. They believe that all Asian Americans, including women like myself, are high-achieving immigrants, with stable incomes and the comforts to prove it.
In reality, however, millions of AAPI women work in low-paying jobs, face significant wage gaps and lack health insurance. Regardless of economic status, we’re force-fed toxic cocktails of racism, misogyny and xenophobia. And like nearly every other group of American women, we support and rely on abortion access.
That may surprise you. The model minority myth masks Asian Americans’ health-care needs, including those in reproductive health. Still more troubling, almost no national data exists on AAPI abortion rates. Most studies of abortion access — including those from the federal government — categorize Asian Americans merely as “other.” Even within the AAPI community, leading organizations rarely speak out to support reproductive rights.
The data we gathered, however, reveals a different and undiscussed truth: Reproductive justice matters to millions of AAPI women living across the country.
From 2018 to 2020, we at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum conducted the first comprehensive surveys of AAPI women’s attitudes toward abortion. We found widespread support for abortion rights and access. Almost three-quarters of respondents favored upholding Roe v. Wade. A full 93 percent said that when a woman has autonomy over if, when and how she has children, she benefits — and the rest of society does, too.
Recent antiabortion legislation only highlights the importance of reproductive justice to Asian Americans. Take Senate Bill 8, Texas’s law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy and deputizing civilians to police alleged offenders. AAPI women have served on the front lines against this sexist, racist and unconstitutional law, from Aimee Arrambide’s leadership of Avow — an abortion rights advocacy group based in Austin — to Rosann Mariappuram’s leadership of Jane’s Due Process, which helps minors in Texas access reproductive health care. Asian Texans, including members of NAPAWF’s Texas chapter, have also led protests, fundraising and online activism.
Women are standing up for the rights of their fellow Texans — and their AAPI community. According to data from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, thousands of Asian Americans receive legal abortions in the Lone Star State each year — and hundreds in the first quarter of this year alone. Given the preponderance of unsafe abortions, the number of Asian Texans who have received abortions is surely far higher than we know.
And make no mistake: Legislation like S.B. 8 will not stop Asian Americans, or anyone else, from seeking abortions. We will simply have to risk our lives to get the care we need.
The data from Texas and across the country makes clear: Antiabortion legislation poses a threat to Asian Americans. As the movement against reproductive rights gains momentum, so too must our advocacy for the AAPI community.
That starts with gathering more data on the AAPI community’s abortion use and access. The federal government and other institutions that study reproductive health care must include Asian Americans as a discrete category. Within this category, they must disaggregate data by ethnic subgroups to better understand and respond to the needs of all Asian Americans.
Within the AAPI community, we must speak out and stand up to defend reproductive rights. Our community members have told us they support abortion access. As leaders, our responsibility is to make their voices heard — by loudly opposing antiabortion legislation, supporting grass-roots and government efforts to expand abortion access and making reproductive justice an immovable tenet of our democracy.
Finally, in allyship with the other groups most affected by antiabortion legislation, we must organize against these heinous laws at every opportunity. Through protests, educational events and community-building efforts, we can show lawmakers why they must support what the majority of Americans support. And we can remind lawmakers that their job is to serve us.
When we see bill after bill restricting Americans’ rights, it’s easy to feel disheartened. But this is a moment to march forward in the fight for our fundamental rights and freedoms.
Together, we can show that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness begin and end with reproductive justice. We can strengthen the rights that should belong to every American. And we can ensure that AAPI Americans — along with all other marginalized communities — are able to live in health, security and peace.