This week, members of the North Carolina General Assembly will consider legislation that purports to ban abortions performed when “a significant factor in the pregnant woman seeking the abortion is related to the sex of the unborn child.” If this bill becomes law, a doctor who performs such a procedure could face heavy fines, the loss of his or her license to practice medicine, and any number of expensive lawsuits by a variety of parties.
As with so many other pieces of legislation drafted by those who oppose a woman’s right to control her own reproduction, this proposal to ban “sex-selection abortions” is deceptively packaged and designed to chill reproductive freedom generally.
Moreover, beyond interfering in the doctor-patient relationship, the proposal (House Bill 716) would also have the consequence of encouraging doctors to discriminate against their Asian American patients. Yet I doubt if any legislators who conceived this bill consulted with any Asian Americans like me.
I am the current president of NC Women United, a coalition of organizations dedicated to the full advancement and equality of women in in this state. I am also a South Asian woman, born and raised here in North Carolina, completing all of my undergraduate and graduate education at UNC-Chapel Hill. This is my home state, and I am proud to live and work here, and to be a part of our thriving community.
I am not alone. North Carolina is home to one of the country’s fastest growing Asian American populations. In the last ten years alone, the number of Asian Americans in the state grew by 85 percent.
That’s why it’s particularly problematic that the General Assembly would consider a bill such as the proposal in question. You see, the measure exploits the issue of son preference – a problem that does afflict some Asian cultures in other parts of the world. In so doing, it threatens the health of Asian American women.
It is Asian women like me who politicians claim are deciding to have sex selective abortions. If this bill passes, women like me will be held under a microscope and faced with intense scrutiny about a deeply personal and private decision simply because we are Asian. Some doctors may even be compelled to refuse us care.
Make no mistake: In some cultures outside of the United States, son preference is a real problem. Banning abortion, however, is no solution to the problem – either here or overseas. We cannot fight inequity by imposing more inequity. Moreover, abortion bans are ineffective and will neither treat the symptom nor cure the disease of sexism.
The real solution is addressing the root of the problem— gender inequity. Experience confirms that the best answers to such a problem are found in measures that challenge gender stereotypes and raise the status of women in a meaningful way. This means, among other things, improving pay equity, providing access to affordable health care and expanding education and employment opportunities for women. Unfortunately, these are not the kind of laws politicians behind House Bill 716 have been interested in passing in 2013.
Indeed, it is a perverse and cruel irony of this proposal (and others like it) that its supporters would purport to combat societal gender bias by imposing additional restrictions on the rights and freedoms of women.
Put simply, the legislation in question is a dangerous wolf in sheep’s clothing. The ultimate goal of its supporters is to ban all abortions, and Asian American women are simply being used as a tool to get that end. Let’s hope that both a majority of state lawmakers and Governor McCrory see through this cynical ploy.
Jina Dhillon is the president of N.C. Women United.