- As Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination hearings begin in the Senate, here are some ‘proudly pro-choice’ perspectives from South Asian American Women.
Since the passing of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion in the United States, the debate over it has been one of the most contentious of all the domestic issues that have concerned the American people. Public opinion in favor of legalized abortion over the past decades has been more or less evenly divided. In 2020, 48% of all Americans are pro-choice, while 46% are pro-life. Among women, it is 53% pro-choice to 41% pro-life (Gallup Polls 2020).
Yet, the Roe v. Wade judgement has never been more symbolic or politically divisive than now. With the demise of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, President Trump has been handed a golden opportunity to fulfill his campaign promise to the right: the overturn of Roe v. Wade. His choice of Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and now Amy Coney Barrett — despite her minimal experience of just three years as a judge on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals — clearly reflects that.
While Judge Barrett’s conservative pro-life views are well known, events that have just unfolded cast a shadow of doubt over the transparency and integrity of this nominee. On October 9, Judge Barrett, in a new disclosure, admitted to signing her name on a 2013 Notre Dame University newspaper ad that called for an end to the legacy of Roe v. Wade. Barrett failed to make this disclosure before the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier. Other mandatory disclosures she missed regarding her stand on Roe v. Wade include seminar papers and presentations to student groups at Notre Dame University.
What would a reversal of Roe v. Wade actually mean? It would mean that the right of a woman to choose to terminate a pregnancy, which is now constitutionally guaranteed under the right to privacy (14th Amendment), would no longer be so. Without this overarching constitutional guarantee, it would give 30 states in the U.S. the authority to restrict abortions, particularly mid-term or late-term abortions, through a plethora of state laws. It would also allow them to ban altogether, or defund organizations like Planned Parenthood which work to provide underprivileged women counseling, contraception, and free or low-cost reproductive healthcare.
In fact, a reversal of both Roe v. Wade and the Affordable Care Act 2009 (Obamacare), which is coming up before the Supreme Court, a week after the elections, would be a huge blow, leaving millions of women across these 30 states in dire straits. While a lot of conservative lawmakers have attempted to disallow coverage for contraceptives through various state policies, Obamacare provides for insurance coverage of oral contraceptives and IUDs, as well as their extension to Medicaid. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the sexual and reproductive health research center, state insurance agencies and many state employers in conservative states have taken cover under Trump’s policies to deny their employees insurance coverage even for contraceptives.
Who would be most impacted by a reversal of Roe v. Wade? The late Ruth Bader Ginsberg, herself said in an interview to Bloomberg that “the women most impacted by the fall of Roe v. Wade would be the poor.” If you have the money to buy a plane ticket, or can afford to drive to a neighboring state which allows abortions, can afford to take time off work, and be able to pay out of pocket for the medical expenses, you will probably be ok. Currently, 20 states have passed laws or have legal precedents which guarantee the right to abortions, even if Roe v. Wade was to be reversed. For women of child-bearing age in the other 30 states, it is a sword hanging over their heads.
The reversal of Roe could have other, more serious implications for women in extreme anti-abortion states like Alabama, and Indiana. In 2015, the tragic case of Purvi Patel, an Indian American woman from Indiana made news. Patel, then 33, was the first woman to be charged, found guilty under Indiana’s stringent feticide laws, and sentenced to 20 years in prison (the sentence was later overturned by the Indiana Court of Appeals). In 2019, Alabama tabled the most regressive abortion laws in all U.S., criminalizing them in virtually every situation, and imposing huge punishments for doctors. The law has since been temporarily blocked by a federal court, but these are indicative of the direction in which a repeal of Roe v. Wade could take the nation.
As Miriam Yeung, Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, writes in the Washington Post, “Across the country, Asian American women’s reproductive rights are being challenged and their family-planning decisions are being policed based on racial stereotypes held by anti-choice activists and officials.” She maintains that states are adopting “racially biased ‘sex-selective abortion’ bans” to criminalize immigrants and Asian Americans.
The repeated diatribe by the Trump administration — most recently displayed on the Vice Presidential debate stage by Vice President Pence — that Roe v. Wade encourages liberals to go ahead with abortions almost till the time of birth — is extremely fallacious. Late term abortions are allowed under law when it is a risk to the life of the mother, or if the pregnancy is unviable. Interviews with mothers who had late-term abortions have shown the tremendous mental toll it has taken on them, and the emotional scars they carry for years.
Amita Seth was in her early 30s when she had to abort her late-term pregnancy because of a risk to her life. “Even now, I am plagued by a deep sense of loss.” For Rajni Singh, it was a case of unviable pregnancy. “We were devastated.” She is angry at the unfairness of the rightwing rhetoric which projects women going in for abortions as callous and uncaring. “In such situations, it is not a pro-choice decision, it is a no-choice decision.”
Where do South Asians stand in this debate? By and large, South Asian Americans declare themselves to be pro-choice. “The reason,” says Monalisa Chandra, a sociologist at the University of Houston, “is that Indian Americans who migrated to the U.S. in the last 50 years experienced the benefits of the Family Planning program in India which provided access to contraception. Further, family planning through contraception is not a religious taboo for Indian Americans.” Mothers of daughters are emphatically pro-choice too. As Swati Vora says, “Pro-choice includes pro-life. Whether it applies to us or not, it is for the sake of our daughters and granddaughters.”
For now, let’s vote like our daughters’ lives depend on it, because they likely do.
(Names of some interviewees have been changed on request.)
(Top photo: Purvi Patel, who was found guilty under Indiana’s stringent feticide laws and was sentenced to 30 years in prison with 20 years executed, 10 suspended. The sentence was later overturned by the Indiana Court of Appeals.)
Nandita Bose is a seasoned journalist, writer and editor. In a media career spanning over 12 years, she has worked at India Today magazine as a Senior Correspondent with their Mumbai bureau, as well as with Society magazine (Magna Publications). She has been Executive Editor at Schoolnet India Ltd., a leading education infrastructure company in India, where she had editorial responsibility for some of their content channels. Since moving to the United States, Nandita has been a freelance writer.