- While much of the community believes that abortion should be legal in most circumstances, Indian Republicans and some conservative Christians support the “pro-life” decision.
Actress Sangeeta Agrawal of Maryland has called the U.S. her home for the past 30 years. She moved here from India, “where family planning has been encouraged since the 1950s when the world’s first state-sponsored Family Planning program was established for the economic betterment of families and society as a whole.” Seeing birth control and abortion continue to be such huge political issues in this country “simply boggles my mind,” she tells American Kahani. “The clock to progress has been turned back 50 years,” says Agrawal. “How can the U.S. claim to be a champion of human rights all over the world, when it marginalizes the right to choose for 50 percent of its own population.”
And there is writer, actress, stand-up comedian, and podcast host Natasha Chandel who recently became a U.S. citizen. The Canada-raised and Los Angeles-based entertainer shared her thoughts on the Supreme Court ruling. “This is just the beginning of the unraveling of a lot of peoples’ rights in this country,” she told American Kahani. “They are going to start with women, then go to the LGBTQ community, and people of color,” she warns. “It’s heartbreaking.”
New Jersey-based Aruna Rao, the founder of Desi Rainbow Parents & Allies, told American Kahani that she’s “disheartened and frightened. They will come next to deny trans people rights over their own bodies, gay marriage, and all the rights LGBTQ+ people have fought so hard for. I am fearful for my child and my community.”
Agrawal, Chandel and Rao are among several Indian Americans who are hurt, angered and even embarrassed by the overturning of Roe V Wade after nearly 50 years. On June 24, the conservative-majority Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a ruling that strikes down federal protections for abortion and punts abortion regulation to the states. The 6-to-3 ruling reverses nearly 50 years of legal precedent and will completely change the landscape of women’s reproductive rights by giving individual states the power to decide whether to allow the procedure.
Abortion advocates say the overturning of Roe amounts to a radical assault on reproductive rights that sends the country backward.
A recent poll conducted by Impact, an Indian American political advocacy group, revealed that more than 70 percent of Indian Americans believe abortion should be legal in most circumstances, and only 3 percent think abortion should be completely illegal. “Not only is this decision a violation of human rights, but it also is clearly in opposition to the will of the people – the people that the Supreme Court Justices are appointed to serve,” the group noted.
Dr. Meera Shah, the chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic in Hudson, New York, told 27East, a monthly lifestyle magazine on Long Island, that the ruling “will have a devastating impact for generations and generations to come.” Although “we saw it coming,” Shah says she’s still shocked. “There’s a part of you that wants to believe that it can’t be true, but yet here we are.” The Indian American abortion provider was making her flight connection to Indiana from the Charlotte Douglas International Airport when she heard the news. Shah goes to South Bend, Indiana, about once a month to perform abortions.
For the next few weeks, abortion providers like Shah will have to figure out ways to continue providing the care to their patients, and also counter the false and misleading narratives about abortion.
Shah has dedicated her life to changing the narrative around abortion. Together with her medical expertise, her Indian American heritage, her activism and her commitment to social justice, she is an important ally in the fight to let women have basic healthcare and the right to make their own decisions with their bodies. As a woman’s right to decide what is best for their body has been challenged in many different ways, Shah feels like it is her responsibility to advocate for her patients. So she speaks out. Whether it’s protesting, advocating, speaking out, working on policy change, or lobbying on the Hill, she does it all. Although she’s a physician “first and foremost,” she quickly realized that politics and the restrictive laws have really gotten in the way of that.”
Similarly, Mini Timmaraju, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America condemned the ruling on Twitter. “The impact on the real lives of real people will be devastating … Though we’re grieving the end of the constitutional right to abortion in our country and what it will mean for all of those who need access to care, this fight is far from over.”
Speaking at a virtual panel discussion on “Losing Fundamental Reproductive Rights: A Discussion about Roe v. Wade,” hosted by South Asians for America on June 29, she noted that “there has been systematic chipping away at Roe since it became the law in 1973. We’ve had close to 50 years of targeted restrictions on abortion providers, [and] strap laws being filed across the country being enacted.” So, although Roe fell last week, Timmaraju says “there were large parts of the country where access to abortion was already really, really hard, almost impossible, particularly for marginalized folks and communities of color and rural communities.
She told attendees that the most efficient way to help people is to engage in state and local elections, to make sure “we hold the House.” Noting that the “battle is in the states,” she urged everyone to elect pro-choice candidates to states through grassroots activism.”
Another panelist, Nina Ahmed, 2020 Democratic Nominee for Pennsylvania State Auditor General, reiterated that abortion is a public health issue and stressed the importance of mobilizing people to help with donations, and “open homes when necessary,” and “create a network of resources.” But most importantly, she implored people to fight, and give each other hope.”
For Harbir Kaur Bhatia, a commissioner at the Santa Clara Cultural Commission, the Supreme Court’s decision is a backward step in our history and progress. “This decision is a reflection and impact of underestimating the changing values and ideologies of many people over the years, coupled with the decline in civic participation,” she wrote in a Facebook post from Ukraine, where she’s on her second humanitarian mission. “People have become complacent because of a comfortable life or running the corporate rat race. It will be up to all of us to be more active and fight for our rights! Local and state elections are more crucial now than ever.”
Some activists like Chanda Parbhoo of Dallas, Texas, protested in front of the Supreme Court in the nation’s capital. “I’m in DC! Protesting at the Supreme Court,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “No federal buildings were harmed, no elected officials were lynched or threatened. A peaceful March with a loud message – democracy is failing all of us.”
In New York, Sunita Viswanath, executive director of Hindus for Human Rights, was one of the attendees at the June 24 protest in New York City’s Union Square.
On the political front, Democrats criticized the move and vowed to make it a top issue for the upcoming midterm elections. Many also supported President Biden’s call to Congress to act to codify abortion rights. The Republicans, on the other hand, cheered the ruling.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) feared that the Supreme Court and the GOP “won’t stop at abortion rights. Same-sex marriage is next. The right to contraception is next. So many rights are at stake. Time’s up — the Senate must act now.”
Her colleague in the U.S. Congress, Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) vowed to “never stop fighting for a woman’s right to make her own health decisions, including access to full reproductive care.” He urged the Senate to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act “to codify Roe to ensure that every American has the right to control their own bodies and futures.”
Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois’ 8th District, who has coined the term Samosa Caucus for the four Indian Americans in the U.S. Congress, also took to Twitter. “This extremist, right-wing decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is a tragic rollback of nearly half a century of progress and precedent in protecting reproductive rights, the right to bodily autonomy, the right to privacy, and the rights of women more broadly.” In a follow-up tweet, he called the decision “an international embarrassment and a huge setback for the U.S.’s standing on human rights.”
Former Solicitor General of the United States, Neal Katyal, also took to Twitter. “Justice Thomas concurs, saying overruling Roe isn’t enough. ‘For that reason, in future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.’ That’s right to privacy, contraception, marriage equality, etc.”
Meanwhile, Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley tweeted her support for the Supreme Court decision. “This is a historic win for the pro-life movement. It’s an even bigger win for the American people. It puts the debate back where it belongs—at the state level, closest to the people.”
Joining Haley is attorney Harmeet K. Dhillon, former vice chairwoman of the California Republican Party. In an interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox News, where she’s a frequent guest, Dhillon called the Roe v Wade reversal “a sound decision.” She assured the host and the viewers that she was “not losing any sleep over losing any fundamental right.” She blamed the Democrats for resorting t”o fear-mongering, lies, hysteria, and hype because they have nothing else.” According to her, “this issue belongs with the hearts and minds of Americans in the states.”
Bishop Earl Fernandes of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, the first person of color in that role and the Catholic Church’s first bishop of Indian origin, also weighed in on the issue. Speaking to “But a child is never a problem,” Bishop Fernandes said. Speaking at the closing Mass at Catholic Youth Summer Camp at Damascus, he said: “Jesus Christ gave himself on the cross for each and every person on the face of this earth: every child, born and unborn,” as reported by the National Catholic Register. “Changing laws does not change hearts,” he said, addressing campers in grades six to12. Only love does. And now we are calling on all of you to help us build that civilization of love as a response to the love that flows from the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.”
He urged his audience to restore life to society. “We are a people of life who cherish life, who nurture life, and who celebrate life,” he said. “Our God is the God of life, and he gave us his only-begotten Son so that we might have life and have life abundantly. So let us live always in the love of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Let us be a people of life.”
Democratic elected officials like Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval and Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul have taken steps to announce new policies. On June 27, Pureval announced that “Cincinnati and its local government profoundly, unabashedly, and unequivocally support a woman’s right to choose, and we will do everything in our power to preserve that. To the thousands of women in our city who are terrified, frustrated, and angry right now I say this. You are not alone and Cincinnati is going to fight like hell for you.”
In Wisconsin, Kaul and Gov. Tony Evers announced a new lawsuit challenging the state’s criminal abortion ban. They blasted the Supreme Court decision last week, vowing to fight to defend reproductive freedom, including access to safe, legal abortion in Wisconsin. Kaul said the lawsuit “is asking the court to clarify that Wisconsin’s 19th-century abortion ban with no exceptions for rape or incest has not gone back into effect.”
Several state senators and legislators also expressed their opinion on the decision. In a statement, New Jersey State Sen. Vin Gopal called it a “sad day for Americans.” He said the Supreme Court’s decision “represents a very extreme position which is not the position of the overwhelming majority of New Jerseyans or Americans.” He urged New Jerseyians and Americans “to mobilize, organize and most importantly – vote.”
In Louisville, Kentucky, State Rep. Nina Kulkarni stood in solidarity on June 24 with hundreds of her fellow Kentuckians in the wake of the Supreme Court decision. “This fight is just beginning,” she wrote on her social media handles. “We know what we have to do. We won’t get there overnight. But we will get there together.”
On the West Coast, in Seattle, Washington, State Rep. Vandana Slatter noted that “though we knew about the impending SCOTUS decision last month, it does not make the hurt and devastation of the final decision any less painful.” She said she’s “devastated and simultaneously galvanized by the Supreme Court’s failure to defend healthcare freedom and privacy.” She expressed pride in her state’s “long-standing public policy that protects and advances access to high-quality reproductive healthcare including abortion care.” However, “we need to ensure that all those who seek reproductive healthcare will receive it without punishment or fear, it’s our job to ensure that happens.”
New York State Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar proposed to do “everything in my power to build New York’s capacity as a safe haven for those seeking reproductive care.”
Chicago-based human rights attorney Qasim Rashid tweeted that “a corpse in America has more rights over its body than do women & girls.”
Those running for office this year are also chiming in. Shri Thanedar, a candidate for the Michigan State House, called it “a devastating blow to women’s rights.”
Suraj Patel, who’s challenging Reps. Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney in the Democratic primary for New York’s newly drawn 12th Congressional District, has started a change.org petition to urge the Congress to codify Roe, contraception, gay marriage and interracial marriage. “This is not a time to shrink, it is a time to play offense, to anticipate, and be active,” Patel says. “Without action when we have the majority, the fierce anger of the electorate will have nowhere to turn. The project to erode Roe has gone on for 50 years, we did nothing to codify it. We cannot afford to make the same mistake again.”
Sara Gideon, the former speaker of the Maine House of Representatives and former candidate for U.S. Senate, also called the ruling “devastating and disastrous.” She blamed Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), and all Senators “who confirmed this court and enabled this to happen.”
Anjali Mehrotra, President of the National Organization for Women of New Jersey (NOW–NJ) in a statement noted how “abortion rights were hanging by a thread as extremists who have pushed for decades to undo abortion rights seized the opportunity to create a conservative majority on the Supreme Court.” She said the Supreme Court’s ruling endangers the lives of women and others who can get pregnant across the country, especially those who are low-income, of color from disenfranchised communities. Historically, these communities have faced barriers to reproductive health care and have experienced worse health outcomes because of systemic oppressions in the health care system. Noting that “this is only the beginning for this Supreme Court,” she warned that its attempts to seize control over constitutional rights are boundless. She vowed that NOW-NJ members will be active wherever grassroots grow — “in our communities, through our state and local chapters, in every election at every level.”