South Asian women favor abortion rights

In family-oriented, South Asian communities, emerging data seems glaringly at odds with the conservative social mores of the desi community. According to the National Asian-Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) ) 85% of women believe they should have the right to make their own reproductive choices.

 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. And in Sikh American communities, 59% have either had an abortion or know a Sikh person who has had an abortion.

The Guttmacher Institute found that 6% of patients who seek abortion care nationwide are Asian American, which is proportional to the 5.9% of Asian Americans in the general population. Within AAPI communities 35% percent of pregnancies end in abortion due to relatively low rates of hormonal contraceptive use, reports NAPAW,

So, when the United States Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion established by Roe vs. Wade, the impact on women of color was devastating

At a NAPAWF(National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum) Community Briefing – One Year after Dobbs, Mini Timmaraju, President of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said, Access to abortion was the critical piece missing for women of color, marginalized communities, limited English protected, limited English, proficient communities, immigrant communities, etc. And API’s (Asian Pacific Islanders) sit squarely in the intersections of many of those identities. So, for our communities, even with Roe in place, we were facing abortion access crises.”

The Crisis of Violence & Pregnancy

One of the hidden issues with a lack of reproductive control for women is that too often, violence and pregnancy go hand in hand.  Talking about this intersection is important, says Shivana Jorawar of Jahajee Sisters, because unplanned pregnancies can increase the risk of violence and violence can increase the risk of unplanned pregnancies. 

Jorawar is the Founding Member and Co-Director of Jahajee Sisters, a gender justice organization based in New York that advocates for Indo-Caribbean women to put an end to intimate partner family and sexual violence. 

“One of the most devastating things about the fall of Roe is that bans on abortion are just one more tool for abusers to use in their efforts to exert power and control over their partners,” said Jorawar.

Pregnancy increases the risk of violence and death for women who are experiencing intimate partner violence and homicide is actually the leading cause of death among pregnant women in the US, explains Jorawar.

Lack of sexual and reproductive control

In a study of South Asian women, “it was found that approximately 39% of folks indicated there was an unwanted pregnancy in their abusive relationship due to a lack of sexual and reproductive control,” warned Jorawar.

In abusive relationships, continued Jorawar, “we know that people who abuse often forced their partner to get pregnant and give birth through preventing abortion care, through sexual assault or coercion or by sabotaging birth control. So, pregnancy and children can be used as reasons for the survivor to stay in an abusive relationship and children can be used as a way for abusers to stay in contact with the survivor even after the relationship has ended.” 

A woman whom Jorawar worked with was terrified to take her daughter to a doctor because the child was covered under her ex-husband’s health insurance. He had refused to remove his child from his plan, and it became a way for him to track her and her mother. If the insurance was ever used, he would see information that would help him track them down.

“Pregnancy and children are used as ways to tether a survivor to her abuser in many cases, and the Supreme Court just made that even easier to do” says Jorawar.

The Turnaway Study, a longitudinal study examining the effects of unwanted pregnancy on women’s lives shows that women who are denied abortions were more likely to experience violence because of this kind of ongoing contact. 

“Forced pregnancy is about controlling the freedom and social mobility of working-class people of all races of women, of people of color of immigrants, and others of us whose freedom would threaten the status quo” warns Jorawar. She thinks that it is not a coincidence that Dobbs comes at the time of heightened racist rhetoric, and attacks on both critical race theory and transgender youth. 

Reproductive Freedoms for AAPI Women

When Roe v Wade was overturned, that emboldened states to enact their own abortion restrictions and bans. Twenty states in the country have some form of restriction or ban on the books.

The reproductive access rights of AAPI women are ignored by advocates who assume that most Asian Americans live in liberal states like California, forgetting that Texas has the third-largest population of Asian Americans in the country, and in Georgia, the Asian American population has grown by over 138% since 2000.

One year after Dobbs, one in three people across the country have lost access to abortion in their home state, and more than a quarter of Asian American and Pacific Islander women, ages 15 to 49 live in the states that ban abortion or where abortion is severely restricted, including Florida, Texas and Georgia, said Seri Lee, National Campaign and Membership Director at NAPAWF.

In particular, the majority of Burmese women have been affected, says Lee while Indian women are the largest community of Asian American women impacted. 

AAPI women are overrepresented in service and low-wage industries where there’s often less ability to get time off, lower pay, and lack of health insurance, says Lee.  This is certainly true of many South Asian women who work in restaurants, motels, and gas stations.

Some states enact laws to protect their women

“I’m 50 years old and Roe had been the law of the land my entire life. And I am now raising kids who will have fewer constitutional rights than I did, which is really shocking,” observed Timmaraju of NARAL.

But the good news is that since Dobbs, twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have done really critical work to expand and protect access to abortion. And there’s been an uptick in activism in all of communities on abortion rights. 

“API’s can play a decisive role in this fight, as we are the fastest growing segment of eligible voters out of the major racial and ethnic groups in the US. And we’re also strong supporters of abortion rights and access” explains Lee.

People in blue states like California and New York cannot be complacent because if the balance of the House and the Senate shifts in 2024 and Republicans were to take control of the House and the Senate, they could enact a nationwide abortion ban or severely restrict it to six weeks. This would impact us here in California and we will not be immune, even though we have state laws that protect abortion.

Abortion restrictions disproportionately threaten the health, safety, and economic stability of working poor, low-income communities and people of color, so abortion access always will be a critical part of their reproductive lives.

“Abortion restrictions are meant to keep people powerless and in their place. Abortion bans are racial violence, abortion bans, or gender-based violence, and abortion bans are class warfare, “ concluded Jorawar.

Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is the Donor Engagement Advisor at India Currents and Founder/Producer at She brings her passion for community journalism and experience in fundraising, having...