In our AP(eye) on the Hill newsletter, we share recent events impacting Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women and girls. In this issue, we are encouraged and refreshed by the implementation of the Violence Against Women Act and proactive reproductive health laws in California, the state with the highest number of AAPI women. Still, we continue to be acutely aware that attacks on reproductive justice, including attacks on immigrant families, rage on in legislatures and in courts across the country.
The government shutdown lasted for an inexcusable 16 days and cost taxpayers a whopping 24 billion dollars. House Republicans held the country hostage to their demands of repealing Obamacare and even attempted to restrict women’s access to contraception and preventative care in this budget battle. Congress wasn’t able to reach an agreement until hours before the U.S. would have gone into default from our national loans.
The federal shutdown severely impacted hundreds of thousands of federal workers and a wide range of federally supported programs, including education, housing and health programs that our communities rely on. Programs for women and children, like Head Start and the Special Supplemental Nutritional Program for women, infants and children (WIC), were severely affected. Further, women make up the majority of “nonessential” government employees who were put on furlough, and are also the majority of new Social Security applicants who had to wait until the government is back in business to get the financial support they need.
While Congress ultimately reached an agreement, it was only a temporary fix, funding the government until January. We need a sustainable, long-standing budget that doesn’t hold our country hostage.
Despite some House Republicans’ best efforts, enrollment for the Affordable Care Act began on October 1. About 2 million uninsured Asian American and Pacific Islanders will be able to receive affordable health coverage through the exchanges. While there are technological difficulties being worked through, like the website and long call center wait times, the plans are a win for women. They will include birth control and pregnancy care, well-woman visits, emergency care, hospital stays, mental health and more. Financial aid is available to help women and families afford private health insurance plans, and some low-income people will be able to get free or very low-cost public insurance. You can get help applying for coverage and choosing a plan by visiting a non-profit “navigator” agency in your neighborhood, calling a help line or going on line.
For more resources on how you can enroll today, visit:
On October 8th, thousands of people gathered in Washington, D.C. to demand comprehensive immigration reform. Hundreds were arrested, including Congressmembers Rep. John Lewis (GA), Rep. Charlie Rangel (NY), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL), Rep. Joe Crowley (NY), Rep. Raul Grijalva (AZ), Rep. Luis Gutierrez (IL), Rep. Keith Ellison (MN), and Rep. Al Green (TX). NAPAWF applauds these legislators for their commitment and leadership during this time.
President Obama addressed the nation on October 23 with leaders of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA) standing behind him. He called on the House to make comprehensive immigration reform a priority and fix our broken immigration system. Read NCAPA’s statement here.
On October 2, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Caucus introduced HB 15, an immigration bill that closely resembles the Senate version. The bill provides a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and clears the visa backlog that has kept people from reuniting with their families for years—this is an especially positive provision for the AAPI community, because the largest number of people waiting to be reunited with their families are in Asian countries. Some Filipino families have been waiting upwards of 20 years. The bill also provides worker protections for women working in the informal sector. While the bill includes many great provisions, NAPAWF is still advocating for it to include healthcare access for new immigrants and to preserve visa categories for adult children and siblings.
As we gear up for the holidays, we are starting our annual “Wish for the Holidays” campaign. There are 5.5 million children in the U.S. with at least one parent who is at risk of being deported. Millions of families have been separated by a seemingly endless backlog in the family visa system.
There is a way through now. The U.S. Senate has passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would keep millions of families together. But the House of Representatives still needs to act. Congress needs to hear directly from the voices of our future: our children. Our kids and our families cannot wait any longer.
Through A Wish for the Holidays, thousands of young people will write letters and draw pictures to share one powerful wish with Congress: “Keep our families together! Pass fair immigration reform now!” In December, we’ll deliver these letters to Washington, DC, demanding that Congress take action. Click here to get involved!
Juana Villegas finally settled a five-year legal battle regarding her detainment by Davidson County police and being forced to give birth shackled to a hospital bed in 2008. She received $490,000 for what she went through. Villegas was stopped for a traffic violation and then was taken into custody and detained because of her immigration status. She was nine months pregnant and was forced to give birth to her son in prison. Villegas was shackled to a bed throughout her labor, and prevented from seeing her newborn son for two days after. Villegas’ case is a prime example of reproductive injustice and how a woman’s immigration status can severely impact her reproductive choice and freedom. Immigrant women make up 51% of all immigrants, and their immigration status affects their access to healthcare and the consequences they face for minor offenses. Instead of a simple traffic citation, Villegas was placed in prison and forced to give birth while shackled.
Unfortunately, shackling incarcerated pregnant women while giving birth is not an uncommon occurrence. While there is no longer a federal law requiring incarcerated women to be shackled during delivery, only 13 States have banned this practice. In most state prisons, local jails and detention centers, restraints are routinely used on pregnant women when they are in labor and when they deliver their children. The practice of shackling is unnecessary and inhumane and goes beyond appropriate punishment for a crime.
On October 9th Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 154, which expands access to abortion care. The bill allows nurse practitioners and other qualified health professionals to perform the procedure during the first trimester of pregnancy after completing specific training and complying with standardized medical protocols.
California is a leader in improving access to abortion care. This bill is a big step forward in helping women in rural areas where there may not be providers. Additionally, this bill may ultimately cut the cost of abortion care, which we know is a significant barrier for many women. California has the second largest AAPI population in the country and this will significantly benefit AAPI women who need abortion care.
Governor Brown also signed AB 980, which requires that all primary clinics are treated the same under the state building code, regardless of whether they provide abortions. While other states are passing restrictive building codes for abortion clinics in order to drive them out of business, California is ensuring that clinics providing abortions aren’t being singled out.
This October, the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) implemented the reauthorized Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which is our nation’s main response to domestic and sexual violence. This law, passed in February and signed by President Obama in March, explicitly addresses lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) survivors of violence for the first time.
VAWA names LGBT people as underserved populations in need of specific attention to address the unique issues they face as survivors of domestic or intimate partner violence, dating violence, sexual violence and stalking and it prohibits VAWA grantees from discriminating against survivors of violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity when providing services.
A Nebraska state court denied a 16 year old girl’s request to bypass parental consent requirements in order to obtain an abortion. A ward of the state, her biological parents had their parental rights removed when it was proved that they were physically abusive and chemically dependent.
The court deemed that the girl was not “mature enough” to make this type of decision, despite her showing of mature reasoning at a legal hearing. She worried that she didn’t have the financial resources to support a child or to be “the right mom that I would like to be right now.” Somehow, according to the court’s logic, she’s too “immature” to have an abortion but “mature enough” to have a child.
Nebraska is one of eight states that require notarized consent for a minor to obtain an abortion. Thirty-nine states require at least some level of parental involvement. This is a harsh example of how these parental consent requirements significantly block abortion access for those who need care most.
Twenty-eight year old Alicia Beltran was arrested and detained at a drug treatment facility in Wisconsin because authorities thought she was a danger to her fetus. Beltran confided in health-care workers about her prior use of painkillers and her efforts to end that use on her own during an early prenatal care visit. Despite no evidence that she was using drugs while pregnant, Beltran was arrested after refusing to take an anti-addiction drug on the grounds. Beltran was refused a lawyer, but found out that the Judge already granted her fetus its own lawyer. National Advocates for Pregnant Women is seeking Beltran’s immediate release and is a leading organization working on the issue of criminalization of pregnant and parenting women.
Wisconsin is one of four states, along with Minnesota, Oklahoma and South Dakota, with laws specifically granting authorities the power to confine pregnant women for substance abuse. But many other states use civil-confinement, child-protection or assorted criminal laws to force women into treatment programs or punish them for taking drugs.
For example, in Indiana, Chinese immigrant Bei Bei Shuai was charged with murder of her child because she attempted suicide while she was pregnant by consuming rat poison. While suicide is considered a mental health condition and not a crime, Shuai was charged with murder after the baby died three days after Shuai gave birth.
Extremists are “protecting fetal rights” to the exclusion of the health and life of the mother. Locking up a pregnant woman does not help the woman or the child. Advocates have challenged the Wisconsin law.
Only three days after a federal judge blocked a new Texas law that threatened to shut down many of the state’s abortion clinics, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the decision, saying the rule should take effect while the case is argued. This case will stop as many as 13 of the 36 clinics from providing abortions in the state.
These clinics have been unable to satisfy an unnecessary, burdensome requirement targeted at abortion providers that doctors performing the procedure must have formal admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. Texas is home to the third highest number of Asian women in the country, following California and New York.
US District Judge Lee Yeakel blocked part of the extremely restrictive law. Yeakel struck down requiring doctors performing the procedure to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Yeakel ruled the provision unconstitutional because it is an “undue burden” for women seeking an abortion. The Texas Attorney General appealed the decisions. The case is likely to move on to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
A New York judge has decided to consider a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy as potential evidence that she is unfit to parent her two young children. 38-year-old Lisa Mehos had an abortion nearly a year after she divorced her husband. Because she did not tell her ex-husband about the decision, his lawyers are arguing there is proof of her dishonesty and emotional instability and her credibility should be in question. Mehos said “The court jumped at the chance to use the stigma of abortion to openly scorn, interrogate, and question my ability to be a worthy parent,” she noted.
Abortion is much more common than most Americans may realize. We just don’t talk about it. One in three U.S. women has had an abortion in her lifetime, and AAPI women are not an exception. Although very few reports exist on the rate at which AAPI women are utilizing abortion services, those that do exist suggest a relatively high use of abortion among specific ethnic subpopulations, most notably Chinese American, Korean American, and Thai women.
Contrary to preconceived notions about the “trauma” of ending a pregnancy, research has consistently found that it’s not inherently an emotionally damaging experience. And, when women who have abortions do have negative emotions associated with it, it’s often a result of the societal stigma that surrounds it — they worry about other people finding out and judging them. This issue of stigma is especially salient for women in our community, who experience some of the highest rates of mental health conditions and suicide.