By Sung Yeon Choimorrow
Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum
Jan. 22 marked 47 years since the U.S. Supreme Court first decided on Roe v. Wade and legalized abortion across the country. In March, the Supreme Court will take up another case concerning abortion and newly appointed justices with alarming records on abortion call the future of reproductive rights in America into real question.
Without a doubt, women of color would have the most to lose without the legal protections afforded by Roe v. Wade. But despite the legal right to have an abortion, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women, especially immigrants, have never had full exercise of it. Despite Roe, already, young Asian American immigrant women like Purvi Patel and Bei Bei Shuai have been criminalized for the outcomes of their pregnancies. If we fixate only on the legal right to have an abortion, we will lose sight of the larger picture.
A person’s decision about abortion has been spun as an issue of personal choice and individual rights, when it’s really more than that. Being able to get an abortion is about having agency over ourselves and our families and is inseparable from our lived experiences. AAPI women need more than the legal right to abortion. We need true access to the full range of reproductive health care, including affordable, culturally informed abortion care, to share in the fundamental freedom of self-determination.
Right now, many of us, especially those struggling to make ends meet and immigrant women, can’t actually get that care because of systemic reasons. Abortion is legal, but only if you can afford it. Immigrant women currently rely on a patchwork of health care due to the five-year bar on getting insured through Medicaid while undocumented people can’t get insurance at all. Even if you are qualified for and enrolled in Medicaid, federal law denies insurance coverage for abortion. The model minority myth, which positions Asians as passive and asexual, dehumanizes us and affects the way we are able to access reproductive and sexual health care. It also veils the wide income disparities among AAPIs.
While it is an indisputably landmark decision and a momentous victory for reproductive health and rights, Roe v. Wade was limited in its promise to AAPI women. Continuing to be caught in the defensive fight to protect only the legality of abortion alone has not addressed the realities of what it is to be pregnant and AAPI. That fight isn’t enough to ensure we have justice. It isn’t enough to ensure that our families can thrive.
We have so much more work to do before every single pregnant person, regardless of their race, socioeconomic class, or immigration status, has full agency over our lives. To get us there, Congress must repeal the Hyde Amendment to lift bans on insurance coverage of abortion. We must pass the HEAL Act, which would ensure all immigrants can get health insurance without delay. We must stop racially profiling and criminalizing people for their pregnancy outcomes. Let’s expand our vision beyond the status quo and commit ourselves to a future where no one is left behind.