South Dakota's anti-abortion legislation is bad enough. When it takes a racist turn, it's worse.
House Bill 1162 seeks to make it illegal to abort a fetus because of the fetus's sex. Like other abortion laws on South Dakota's books, the law insults women by declaring abortion a crime but refusing to recognize women's responsibility for committing that crime.
But the laws backers are going further and insulting a specific group of women: Asian-American women. During House debate on HB 1162, Rep. Stace Nelson (R-19/Fulton) argued that we need to ban sex-selective abortions to check the evil cultural tendencies of South Dakota's burgeoning immigrant population:
Speaking in favor of the bill, Stace Nelson, a Republican state representative running for the US Senate, hearkened back to his time living in Asia as a Marine. "Many of you know I spent 18 years in Asia," Nelson said. "And sadly, I can tell you that the rest of the world does not value the lives of women as much as I value the lives of my daughters" [Molly Redden, "GOP Lawmaker: We Need to Ban Sex-Selective Abortions Because of Asian Immigrants," Mother Jones, 2014.02.25].
Rep. Don Haggar (R-10/Sioux Falls), proud papa of HB 1162 prime sponsor Rep. Jenna Haggar (R-10/Sioux Falls), jumped on the evil-Asian bandwagon:
Don Haggar, another Republican state representative, warned that the values Nelson observed in Asia had already taken root in South Dakota. "Let me tell you, our population in South Dakota is a lot more diverse than it ever was," Haggar said. "There are cultures that look at a sex-selection abortion as being culturally okay. And I will suggest to you that we are embracing individuals from some of those cultures in this country, or in this state. And I think that's a good thing that we invite them to come, but I think it's also important that we send a message that this is a state that values life, regardless of its sex" [Redden, 2014.02.25].
Shivana Jorawar of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum says this anti-Asian stereotyping has been going on in anti-abortion crusades for years. She testified yesterday before Senate Health and Human Services to ask South Dakota not to go down this racist path. She said South Dakota has seen its Asian population grow 70% in the last decade, and these new residents deserve better than legislation and legislators who stigmatize them with false stereotypes.
In an interview yesterday, Jorawar told me that there is no evidence to support the racist claims supporters are using to push HB 1162, or even that sex-selective abortions are happening in South Dakota. Jorawar says HB 1162 could cause doctors to engage in racial profiling: make sex-selection abortions a crime, fill doctors heads with false fears of anti-girl sentiment among Asian immigrants, and doctors may subject Asian women to greater scrutiny and interrogation when they come for gynecological exams. Such baseless suspicions could have a chilling effect on Asian immigrants' willingness to seek medical care.
Lena Tran, a USD student and one of 10,000 Asian-South Dakotans, told Senate Health and Human Services she is "horrified" her Legislature would go down this racist road. She asked Senate Health and Human Services not to subject people like her to more racial profiling. Senate Health and Human Services almost obliged: two conservative Republicans, Senators Blake Curd of Sioux Falls and Bruce Rampelberg of Rapid City, joined the committee's lone Democrat, Jim Bradford of Pine Ridge, in voting no. Three Republicans voted aye... but Senator Deb Soholt walked out before the vote, leaving the committee in stalemate.
When Senator Soholt returns to the committee room Wednesday, Senate HHS will have to consider the prospect of yet another abortion law provoking yet another lawsuit. Arizona banned abortions to select for sex or race last year. Jorawan's organization is working with the ACLU and NAACP to overturn that law with a discrimination lawsuit, saying it unfairly stigmatizes minority women. South Dakota's HB 1162 does not address race-selection in abortion, but Jorawan says the racist rhetoric already on the record in favor of HB 1162 demonstrates a legislative intent to discriminate that would support a civil rights lawsuit.
Senate Health and Human Services reconvenes Wednesday at 10 a.m.