Contributors

Why Asian American Pacific Islander families don’t need sex-selective abortion bans

When you ask my parents how they feel about having daughters, looks of frustration cross their faces. If you knew them as well as my sister and I do, you would hear all the retorts that rush into their minds but that they never say. "Delighted? Overjoyed? Happy to have healthy, smart girls? How do you feel about your children?"

But they say, "We love our girls," and smile placidly or chuckle in confusion at the questioner.

It's a small indignity that South Asian families and South Asian daughters go through. "Son preference," the idea that South Asian parents prefer sons over daughters, is a stereotype that follows Indian families, as though all Indian families are a monolith. This racist stereotype overrides the evidence in the United States.

Not only is there no evidence that son preference changes the reproductive decisions South Asian families make, studies show Indian American women have more daughters on average than white families in the U.S.

 

My family isn't unusual. Indian families have daughters. The fact that some of these Indian daughters choose to become mothers are why there are still Indian families at all. Millions of Indian American families across the country have daughters just like us. But it's a question we've been asked a lot in the United States. Are our parents happy to have us?

I know other girls and women remember their mothers telling them they could do anything a boy could do, but my mom never told me that. It was an assumption in our family. This is usually where a story about how my mother said or did something to empower me as a young woman would go, but I don't have any neatly packaged stories like that. My whole life has been that story, and so has my mother's - though her story started 26 years before mine.

I am the Indian daughter of an Indian daughter of an Indian daughter. Each of us was raised with a foundation of gender equality. It's only a story when you look at us through the lens of what mainstream culture has taught you to expect. To me, it's always been laughable that anyone would ask my parents if they would have preferred sons.

But these stereotypes follow Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) families in particular. Even lawmakers deliberately use these stereotypes against AAPI women to limit our access to reproductive healthcare. In six states, most recently Arkansas, lawmakers have passed sex-selective abortion bans. These bans often mandate that doctors not only ask their patients if they're having an abortion in order to have a child of a specific gender, but some even demand doctors search a patient's medical history or give patients' medical histories to local law enforcement in order to look for evidence of son preference.

The state legislators who bring these bills say that they are trying to guard against immigrants who bring backwards values from their home countries. Specifically, they are trying to guard against the values they think my family and families like mine brought with us. By relying on racist stereotypes about AAPI families, anti-choice lawmakers use language about gender discrimination to limit all of our abortion rights.

Six more states are trying to pass sex-selective abortion bans for these same racist and sexist reasons right now. State legislatures in Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, Oregon, New York and Rhode Island are attempting or have attempted to push through these laws. By using AAPI women and our choices as a wedge, they want to limit abortion rights for all women - any way possible. The only way these laws make sense is if families like mine - if women like my sister and me - don't count as Indian or American. Laws like these render us second-class citizens in our own country.

These laws are not inevitable, though. We have fought against and successfully stopped these laws in states before. We know AAPI daughters are present across the country, and these daughters are cared for, appreciated and loved. When AAPI families speak out against these bills, we expose the misinformation and deception these lawmakers are trying to use against our communities.

Lawmakers need to listen to AAPI women and our families and stop passing these sexist and racist abortion bans. Instead, they should work to implement policies and programs that address the real needs of communities, like compassionate immigration reforms that support families.

Mohini Lal is a reproductive justice fellow at the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum.

The views of contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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