Asian Americans do not have adequate access to information about how to obtain an abortion, according to a new report.
Cultural stigmas against conversations about sexual and reproductive health and a lack of in-language information on abortion has stifled knowledge of abortion care among Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians, researchers found.
In a survey of AANHPIs released on Tuesday, 47% of respondents said they did not know where to access medication abortion – commonly referred to as abortion “by the pill” – if they needed it.
A 2021 study in New York City found that the abortion rate among Asian American women was 12.6 per 1,000 women. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and the Guttmacher Institute, an NGO that aims to expand reproductive rights, put the national rate at between 11.2 and 14.4 per 1,000 women in 2020, according to data analyzed by Pew Research Center.
About a third of respondents had never heard of medication abortion, which accounts for the majority of abortions in the United States. That is higher than the national average: in an April survey, 21% of Americans said they had never heard of medication abortion, according to Pew.
“A lot of this stuff isn’t new, it just becomes more glaring,” said Isra Pananon Weeks, the interim executive director of National Asian and Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF).
The survey, administered by the advocacy group in partnership with the Massachusetts-based nonprofit Ibis Reproductive Health, was conducted in September 2022 among a sample of 1,500 people between the ages of 16 and 49 who identified as a woman, transgender, non-binary or gender expansive and as Asian or Native Hawaiian and/or Pacific Islander.
Questions were available in English, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese, and 85% of respondents identified as Asian while 17% identified as Native Hawaiian and/or Pacific Islander.
“Access to reliable and accurate information about different abortion methods is critical especially in states and cities with large AANHPI and immigrant populations and less robust public health programs,” according to the report.
While many AANHPIs support access to abortion in all or most cases, knowledge of how to receive abortion care lags behind, according to Rachna Khare, the executive director of Daya, a Houston-based non-profit that provides culturally specific services to South Asian survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.
“Ideas around sex and reproduction are just not very talked about topics in our community,” Khare said.
In Texas, where Daya is based, access to abortion is now totally restricted, even in cases of sexual assault or incest. A lack of knowledge in the state was particularly true among people for whom English is not their first language, Khare added.
South Asians, which include people from countries such as India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, comprise about a quarter of the Asian American population, whereas east Asians and south-east Asians each comprise about a third. South Asians are also the fastest-growing group of Asian Americans, according to the nonprofit AAPI Data.
“People who had high or even middle-of-the-road English proficiency could and have used their phones or computers to do Google searches or learn more,” said Khare. “People with lower English proficiency by and large were the ones that needed the most assistance.”
Increasing access to in-language abortion resources in culturally sensitive ways would raise awareness of abortion care among AANHPIs, evidence shows.
For example, Asian women would be more likely to select the abortion pill because they believed it was safer, according to Katherine Key, a senior research manager at Ibis Reproductive Health.
But since the US supreme court overturned Roe v Wade, which protected access to abortion, abortion restrictions have increased in the US.
The Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) called that decision “disastrous” for south-east Asian Americans and other groups across the country.
“Immigrants are at particular risk, with many now having to choose between an abortion or residency in the US,” said Quyên Đinh, SEARAC’s executive director at the time.
Earlier this year, a Texas judge ruled to remove mifepristone, a popular abortion drug, from the market. The supreme court blocked that ruling.
Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the US, announced layoffs earlier this month, another sign of shrinking access to abortion across the country.
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