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Proposed Bill Should Be on Every South Asian Woman’s Radar

By DEEPALI GOKHALE Email By DEEPALI GOKHALE
January 2011
Proposed Bill Should Be on Every South Asian Woman’s Radar House Bill 1155, deceptively titled “The Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act,” was a controversial piece of legislation that targeted Black and Asian women and their physicians on the pretext of preventing racial selection amongst Blacks and gender selection amongst Asians.

During the last legislative session, Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R), not known for his civil rights activism, sponsored a bill using anti-discrimination rhetoric to mask efforts to criminalize doctors and make abortion inaccessible for women of certain ethnicities. The bill eventually died in the House before it could be voted on. However, it is suspected that when the Georgia legislative session resumes in January, conservative legislators may re-introduce it. Every South Asian woman should be concerned about HB 1155.

Proponents of the legislation contend that Asian women have abortions based on the sex of their unborn child, and that doctors providing the service should be subject to criminal penalty. The same incoherent rationale was used to justify the criminalization of physicians concerning supposed “race selective” abortions amongst Blacks.
The legislation, which appears to be thinly veiled anti-choice activism, intends to hold the threat of legal liability and criminal penalty over doctors’ heads, hoping they will cease to provide abortion services to women of color, specifically Asian and Black women. It also aims to create additional barriers to accessing abortion services.
The research these legislators have utilized specifically references the Indian community. We know their real intent is to use what they think they know about our cultures as ammunition in their political agenda. South Asian women need to be aware of and speak up against this attempt to prevent us from making decisions for our own bodies. If this legislation passes, it will put control over our bodies in the hands of others and legitimize denying South Asian women medical services that other women would have access to.
It is ironic that the authors of the bill feign concern about racism and sexism while actively trying to pass a bill that is racist and sexist. The language of this bill attempts to use racial profiling against the Asian community to deny women their constitutional rights. As research from two Asian-American organizations, the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum (NAPAWF) and Generations Ahead, has shown, “family balancing” is something that happens in ALL communities. Yet, if this legislation passes, only Asian women will be required to justify their decision to carry or not carry a pregnancy to term, and only their doctors will have the strange burden of trying to determine whether a patient is practicing sex-selection.
In a close knit South Asian community, doctors being forced to ask why a woman is making her decision, and to share her answer with the government is especially worrisome. Such a requirement would be a violation of the confidentiality and trust required between a doctor and a patient. This confidentiality is why doctors are often the only people we trust with very personal medical issues and decisions, and this bill would force a breach of that trust while violating privacy rights.
Most troubling is the assertion that restricting access to abortion for Asian women will solve the problem of cultural biases that value boys and men over girls and women. If sex selection is indeed occurring in Georgia’s South Asian community (there is no such evidence specific to Georgia), the solution is not to deny women their constitutional rights to make private medical decisions. Instead, the government, and especially those legislators who do not represent the interests of the South Asian community, should cease interfering in our private lives and trust community members to raise awareness about why gender discrimination and son preference is wrong.
At best, this bill is a misguided and uninformed attempt at addressing a symptom instead of a cause. At worst, it is discounting South Asian women’s abilities to make decisions for themselves and their realities.
In either case, this is a bill that will serve to harm rather than help the South Asian community. Communities of color and all women should call and write to their state representative and state senator, urging them to abstain from reintroducing or supporting, HB 1155, a biased, ill-informed and discriminatory bill.


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