This week, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) approved an unnecessary abortion restriction that reinforces racial stereotypes about the Asian American community. House Bill 1162 bans abortions based on a fetus’ sex, and makes it a felony for doctors to perform this type of “sex-selective” procedure — based on the misperception that Asian women are more likely to terminate a pregnancy if they find out the fetus is a girl.
The lawmakers who push sex-selective abortion bans typically claim that it’s an important policy to preserve gender equality. And during the debate over HB 1162 in South Dakota, elected officials were particularly candid about the racial implications. As Mother Jones reported last month, Republican lawmakers in the state were very clear about their position that the bill was necessary because of South Dakota’s population of Asian immigrants.
“Let me tell you, our population in South Dakota is a lot more diverse than it ever was,” one GOP lawmaker, Rep. Don Haggar, said to explain his support for HB 1162. “There are cultures that look at a sex-selection abortion as being culturally okay. And I will suggest to you that we are embracing individuals from some of those cultures in this country, or in this state. And I think that’s a good thing that we invite them to come, but I think it’s also important that we send a message that this is a state that values life, regardless of its sex.”
In fact, this type of legislation is a solution in search of a problem. While female infanticide is an issue in some parts of the world, there’s absolutely no evidence that the Asian American or Pacific Islander (AAPI) individuals who live here in the U.S. are having abortions based on gender. There is no epidemic of sex-selective abortion among the AAPI community, and passing legislation to “fix” this nonexistent issue simply ends up damaging women of color. Ultimately, these laws scrutinize Asian American women based solely on their race.
“South Dakota’s governor has signed a purposefully misleading bill that undermines our health as women and discriminates against us as Asian Americans,” Miriam Yeung, the executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, explained in a statement. “Our community has made it clear we don’t support these misleading, stigmatizing bans that hurt us and only serve to exacerbate the health disparities we already face. Nearly 2,000 women and men from South Dakota and around the country signed a petition condemning the racist legislation.”
Yeung’s organization has been standing up against sex-selective abortion bans for years. But, thanks to draft legislation on the issue written by the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life, over 60 sex-selective bills have been introduced at the state and federal level since 2009. Aside from South Dakota, seven other states have passed this policy into law.
Nearly 92 percent of all abortions take place before the fetus’ sex can even be determined. Abortion providers have warned that they have no idea how to enforce this type of sex-selective ban in practice.