South Dakota Uses Asian Stereotypes to Pass Anti-Abortion Law

South Dakota lawmakers show they care about female Asian babies by cracking down on women's health rights.

By Julianne Hing Mar 27, 2014

What do you get when you combine anti-choice attacks on women’s reproductive rights with a healthy dose of racial stereotypes about Asian families? South Dakota’s new anti-abortion law SB 1162, signed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard on Wednesday. 

SB 1162 makes abortions based on a fetus’s sex illegal, and physicians who perform such abortions could be charged with a felony. To make their case for the bill, South Dakota lawmakers had to rely on Asian stereotypes and a healthy dose of xenophobia. 

The AP reported earlier this month:

Rep. Don Haggar, R-Sioux Falls, suggested during a House debate that the bill was necessary because of an influx of immigrants to the state. And Rep. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, said that he spent 18 years in Asia in the military and believes parts of the world don’t value women as much as he values his daughters.

South Dakota’s Asian population increased 70 percent (PDF) between 2000 and 2010, notes the National Asian Pacfic American Women’s Forum. (Though, to put things in perspective, at roughly 10,000 people, Asian Americans are still just 1.3 percent of South Dakota’s population.) All that was enough to convince South Dakota lawmakers to advance its anti-choice agenda. NAPAWF and groups like the ACLU are currently challenging a similar law passed in Arizona which explicilty targeted women of color in order to limit women’s reproductive rights. And at least a half dozen other states have laws on their books with sex-selective abortion bans. 

To be clear: female infanticide and feticide is a serious global problem among South Asian and Chinese parents who are desperate for male babies. But conservatives have seized upon the issue to limit abortion access, instead of actually fighting for gender equity. What’s more, underlying the attacks on women’s reproductive rights is an anti-immigrant xenophobia that paints Asian women as being unable to make their own reproductive choices. "Our community has made it clear we don’t support these misleading, stigmatizing bans that hurt us and only serve to exacerbate the health disparities we already face," NAPAWF executive director Miriam Yeung said in a statement. "If these legislators truly cared about AAPI women, they would support policies that help our community, like culturally competent sex education and laws to prevent sexual and domestic violence. These hypocritical bills are designed to ban abortion, plain and simple."