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Abortion Rights at the forefront
“I have two daughters. And I care about the reproductive rights of my wife and my daughters.” Harini Krishnan, Chair of Community Organizing at South Asians for America was manning the phonebanks when a 60 year old desi man from Wisconson offered this response. He said he was going to vote down the ticket for Democrats for the same reason.
The 2022 midterm elections were a watershed moment for reproductive rights that brought the left to the polls in droves.
“The Supreme Court’s decision a few months before the 2022 midterm elections was political suicide,” said Suba Srinivasaraghavan, a field organizer with They See Blue in Virginia at a March 31 EMS briefing about abortion and the 2024 elections.
With the overturn of Roe v. Wade, says Srinivasaraghavan “as a volunteer on the ground, I could see this shock turning into a surge in voting and a surge in volunteering.”
Krishnan in an interview with India Currents agrees. She is confident that reproductive rights will be one of the most important issues driving desis to the polls in 2024.
How do Desis view Abortion?
SouthAsianSOAR which works to end gender-based violence in the South Asian diaspora reports that 68% of Hindus and 55% of Muslims in America believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. In Sikh American communities, 59% have either had an abortion or know a Sikh person who has had an abortion.
Most desis will not be surprised by these numbers. Almost everyone knows someone who has had an abortion – choice, and health being prime reasons.
But abortion continues to be a taboo topic in the South Asian community. The stigma and shame associated with sex spills into a lack of open conversations within families about reproductive health.
Abortion access is a healthcare issue
“There’s this perception that it’s only women who care about reproductive rights” but that is not true says Krishnan. Even men recognize it’s a health care issue.
“As more and more state legislatures are instituting complete bans – you are talking about, God forbid, a 14 or 15-year-old child forced to carry a child or a young woman who has ectopic pregnancy being forced to carry the pregnancy” at an increased risk to her health. It’s a public health issue with life-threatening consequences and that scares everyone, men and women.”
Many South Asian doctors in the United States are afraid of the criminalization of providing abortion care. That affects women seeking healthcare.
Medical students are afraid to train in OBGYN because “they might not be able to practice in big parts of the country,” said Angela Vasquez-Giroux, NARAL Pro-Choice America’s Vice President of Communications and Research. “Others want to train but aren’t permitted in their states to learn abortion care. There are also public hospitals that are facing political pressure to shut down their training programs.”
Impact on Women
There are 17 states enforcing bans on abortion, and anti-choice lawmakers and state legislatures are ready to pass more, says Vasquez-Giroux.
“These bans cause doctors and hospitals to delay critical care like miscarriage management and cancer treatment. In other cases, pregnant people are forced to travel to other states, sometimes hundreds of miles for the care they need. But we know that for far too many, traveling across states is simply out of reach. Finding childcare, paying for gas and expensive hotels, and taking days off from work can be barriers too high to overcome. We know these attacks have discriminatory consequences, most harming people from historically oppressed communities, including women, communities of color.”
Abortion bans tend to affect lower income and communities of color who may work multiple jobs that provide no sick days or insurance coverage. The lack of English proficiency for many in immigrant communities, adds confusion about state laws, and where to seek health care.
Reproductive rights spur political engagement
Krishnan was canvassing door to door in Gwinnett County, Georgia, during the elections. The county has a large South Asian population that includes Indian and Bangladeshi immigrants.
“I will tell you invariably, every door where someone opened if it was a woman, absolutely this issue of abortion rights was front and center on their mind. Whether it was second generation or first generation, the recurring idea was abortion rights in determining who they voted for.” They wanted to know the candidate’s stance on abortion, down the ticket.
2017 was the renaissance year for South Asian political engagement, says Krishnan. After the Trump election and the recent increase in ant-abortion bills across the country, desis are done with the model minority status. “Keep your head down. Don’t raise your voice. Go with the status quo. Don’t share your opinion. People are like in order for our voices to be heard, we need to jump in, take those risks, and do whatever we can.”
“Women voters have turned out in larger numbers because of the implications of the recent reproductive rights legislation and the state-level efforts to further limit and/or criminalize abortion,” Shoba Viswanathan told India Currents. She is the co-founder and community organizer of the Chitthi Brigade.
The South Asian community is more open and energized to donate, says Srinivasaraghavan.“Those who in the past did not donate, donated. I definitely saw a surge in volunteering and voting and donating.”
With abortion under threat across the country, Krishnan says it has spurred civic engagement, especially among South Asian women, energized them to vote, become more politically engaged, and join groups like SAFA to have their voices heard.
South Asian youth are changing minds with advocacy
As more states enact draconian abortion bans, desis are paying attention. “This is not something that is not going to affect us just because we’re in a blue state,” says Krishnan. South Asian youth are recognizing it and they are owning their voice, says Harini with excitement.
“You live in California, you think you’re immune. Even in California, there are so many districts with a Republican majority that are pushing for all kinds of draconian measures through their city councils – whether it’s education policy or through school boards.”
With greater advocacy, comes greater understanding.
In Virginia, Srinivasaraghavan heard parents say that their children who are often more progressive, have alerted them to the abortion debate . “Their kids made them realize that abortion is healthcare, and it’s heart-wrenching. And for many women who make that decision, it comes to the critical health of the mom or the kid.”
Though abortion still is a taboo topic, said Viswanathan, “there is more awareness and a willingness to listen to intersectional issues around gender, race, and sexuality. This seems to be a combination of the influence of the younger generation being vocal about these issues and the growing sophistication of more engaged voters who see the interconnectedness of these issues.”
Voters want elect more reproductive freedom candidates in 2024
The Wisconsin Supreme Court election on April 4 to elect a justice to the Wisconsin Supreme Court shattered the previous national record for spending in a state Supreme Court race. At stake were abortion and voting rights. Wisconsin voters elected Janet Protasiewicz to the Wisconsin Supreme Court by a ten-point margin because she promised to stand for fair voting laws and protect reproductive rights.
This election was pivotal because it switched the political orientation of the court for the first time in 15 years. It matters because this court will take up cases relating to the state’s abortion ban, extreme gerrymandering, and voting rules for the 2024 presidential election.
This continuing blue surge energizes Desi community organizers like Krishnan, Viswanathan, and Srinivasaraghavan. As red states take away the fundamental rights of women to make decisions about their health and family, they will organize and build power to vote for political leaders who will protect those rights.
A women’s right to choose will be front and center in the 2024 elections because it impacts every facet of her life.