Passed in 2011, Arizona’s law purportedly banning abortions based on sex or race in fact encourages doctors to racially profile women. It’s time the courts overturn it.
In 2011, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed HB 2443—a law that stigmatizes and discriminates against Black and Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) women. This law claims to protect women by banning abortions based on sex or race. In reality, although this measure is cloaked in the language of equality, it encourages doctors to racially profile a woman before determining whether to provide her a safe, legal medical service. Legislators have repeatedly invoked ugly racial stereotypes to advance these bans—pointing to the “backwards beliefs” of AAPI women as the justification for banning abortion based on sex and the desire of Black women to “de-select” members of their own race as the motivation for banning abortion based on race. There can be no doubt that these offensive stereotypes hurt women of color, eroding trust between patient and doctor in communities that already face too many health disparities.
Last October, a federal district court judge refused to hear our challenge to this racist law. This week, represented by the ACLU, we appealed that decision because this Arizona law—and others like it—profile Black and AAPI women in order to undermine their personal, private health care decisions. Like similar laws, this one is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and threadbare clothing at that: it enshrines blatant discrimination.
At the crux of the court’s previous dismissal of our case was a misreading of the law. The court held that we couldn’t even bring our claim in the first place because legally sanctioned racial stereotypes do not harm us in ways that the Constitution recognizes. This is plainly wrong.
As women of color have known since before the founding of the republic, and as the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized for more than a century, racial stereotypes are deeply harmful to individuals, to their communities, and to society as a whole. Racial stereotypes are responsible for the deaths of Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, and countless other young black men; the violence against South Asians after 9/11; and the internment of over 110,000 Japanese Americans during World War II.
HB 2443 institutionalizes harmful racial stereotypes because it explicitly relies on the assumption that Black and AAPI women decide to end a pregnancy for certain (disparaged) reasons, and that they do so simply because they are Black and AAPI women. For example, Arizona legislators cited reports of sex-selective abortion in India and China, and then claimed that banning abortions based on sex was necessary because “people from those countries and from those cultures are moving” to Arizona, even though Arizona’s own data shows zero evidence of sex-selective abortion. In the South Dakota legislature, which passed a similar ban just last week, the rhetoric was equally xenophobic and infuriating, openly suggesting that all AAPI women in the state should be considered suspect.
This law also implies that AAPI and Black women in particular are incapable of deciding whether to end a pregnancy in a way that is intelligent, thoughtful, and worthy of respect.
It couldn’t be clearer that these laws don’t just advance racial stereotypes. They are motivated by them as well. And we know they hurt Black and APPI women. Through conversations with AAPI women in Arizona, we know that HB 2443 makes women feel looked down upon by their friends and neighbors simply because of their color and country of origin. The impacts of these stereotypes and stigma cause real harm to our communities.
Unfortunately, these bans are part of a growing anti-choice trend across the country. Since 2009, more than 60 similar bills have been introduced—including at the federal level. There are now eight states with similar laws, and it was the second most-proposed abortion ban in 2013.
Even as they co-opt the language of equality, these bills have nothing to do with helping women or people of color; they are about shaming women who have abortions and undermining women’s health—and they must be stopped.
Miriam Yeung is executive director of the National Asian Pacific America Women’s Forum. The Rev. Oscar Tillman is president of the Maricopa County Branch of the NAACP