State Abortion Bans Could Harm More than 1.3 Million Asian American and Pacific Islander Women

Katherine Gallagher Robbins and Vanisha Kudumuri

The decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has harmed millions of people across the nation, impeding their access to abortion, disrupting their economic futures, and putting their health and even their lives at risk. The impact of this decision is particularly harmful for women of color, who are less likely to have insurance, and face economic barriers to accessing abortion.

The Dobbs decision has unique impacts on Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. To understand these impacts, it is critical to understand that the term “AAPI” itself lumps together dozens of different ethnicities, each with their own languages, histories, cultures, and socioeconomic conditions. Recognizing and fully appreciating this diversity helps combat stereotypes, such as the model minority myth, which can increase divisions among communities of color.

Given this diversity, it's important to recognize that the health care experiences of AAPI people are also, of course, not a monolith. For example, the Center for American Progress reports that Korean Americans face the highest rates of uninsurance, Laotian Americans have the highest young parent birth rates in California, and Vietnamese Americans are especially likely to face cervical cancer.

Abortion is no different. Though we lack the data to show a detailed picture across AAPI communities, the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum (NAPAWF) notes, abortion is difficult to access for many AAPI communities for myriad reasons including "language barriers, cultural stigma, and low rates of insurance coverage." These barriers – which vary across AAPI communities – have been exacerbated by abortion bans that have been or are likely to be enacted in the wake of the Dobbs ruling.

New analysis from the National Partnership for Women & Families sheds light on the staggering impact of Dobbs. We find that:

  • More than a quarter of Asian American and Pacific Islander women ages 15-49 live in the 26 states that have banned or are likely to ban abortion.
  • Approximately one third or more of Bhutanese, Indian, Laotian, Nepalese, Burmese, Pakistani, Thai, Vietnamese, and Asian American women whose ethnicity is not specifically classified live in these states, including:
    • More than 4 in 10 Nepalese and Bhutanese women; and
    • The majority of Burmese women
  • Indian women are the largest community of Asian American women impacted by this ruling; nearly 362,000 Indian women live in these 26 states.
  • Approximately one third or more of Tongan and Pacific Islander women whose ethnicity is not specifically listed live in these 26 states.

Our research also finds that for some AAPI communities, the actions of one state will have an enormous impact on the community overall. For example,

  • Wisconsin is home to 60 percent of the Hmong women who live in these 26 states, and approximately 17 percent of all Hmong women of reproductive age nationally.
  • Of the 34,300 Pacific Islander women who live in these 26 states, 6,900 – 20 percent – live in Utah.
  • Texas is home to nearly 400,000 Asian American and Pacific Islander women of reproductive age: 30 percent of all of the AAPI women living in these 26 states.
    • Approximately one-third of the Taiwainese, Indian, Cambodian, and multi-ethnic Asian American women who live in these 26 states live in Texas, as do more than 40 percent of Vietnamese women and close to half of Pakistani women.

How AAPI women will be impacted by these bans is, of course, shaped by more than just their address. For example, given the increased economic resources required to access abortions in many communities, AAPI women in these 26 states who face large wage gaps are particularly likely to be harmed. In fact, research by NAPAWF shows that some of the AAPI communities who are especially likely to live in these 26 states – such as Nepalese and Burmese women – are the same women who are paid the least compared to white, non-Hispanic men. Together, these findings demonstrate that reproductive justice and economic justice and insecurity are inextricably intertwined and cannot be viewed in isolation. As the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) made clear in their response to the Dobbs decision, "reproductive justice is a worker's right."

Leading AAPI women's groups have come together to develop a reproductive justice agenda that reflects the voices of and addresses the needs of diverse AAPI communities and advances justice in solidarity with other BIPOC communities. Now is the time to make that agenda a reality.

Methodological note: This analysis uses the 2016-2020 American Community Survey accessed via IPUMS USA, University of Minnesota, www.ipums.org. We use a five-year dataset to have a sufficient sample size to analyze state-level data. AAPI communities analyzed here exclude women who identify as Latina and/or Hispanic, who are analyzed separately. The American Community Survey does not classify as Asian American people who identify their heritage as being from countries west of Pakistan, thus this analysis is limited in that it does not include women in the U.S. whose ancestry is rooted in central, northern, western, or some parts of southern Asia. Not all women of reproductive age have the potential to become pregnant – many of them may not be able to for medical reasons or they may not participate in sexual activities that could result in pregnancy. Additionally, due to data limitations, this analysis does not include people who do not identify as women but may become pregnant, including transgender men and nonbinary people (see Robbins and Goodman for additional discussion).

The authors would like to thank Jaclyn Dean, Sharita Gruberg, Mettabel Law, Alyssa Lindsey, Kristina Romines, and Gail Zuagar for their helpful review.

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