Monday, January 19, 2009

Toward More Justice at NAPAWF

Having an Asian heritage naturally makes me curious as to what Asian-focused organizations exist around the country. My latest internet surf has yielded my own discovery of the National Asian Pacific American Womens Forum (NAPAWF). On the surface, NAPAWF touts a decade of seeking justice for Asian women and girls around the world who have been abused. They promote awareness of human trafficking and sex slavery. They advocate legislation for improved access to adequate medical care for Asian women, especially those with difficulty understanding English.

All of this sounds terrific. However, all of this is not all there is. Alongside their efforts to help Asian women lies the open support and promotion of abortion, using a more commiserating term, "reproductive justice." As much as the other efforts receive attention, any casual look at their website shows that pro-abortion activism is a mainstay of this organization. For example, the last paragraph of their organizational statement says, "[NAPAWF] is where a longtime pro-choice activist finds young women ready to learn and keep the struggle for reproductive justice alive." Under the Programs & Projects tab, the very first item listed is their Reproductive Justice Program.

But I have found something very interesting about their causes that shows me a glimmer of hope in an otherwise tainted agenda. As much as it sounds like NAPAWF is a rank and file pro-abortion group (which it is on the surface), embedded in their literature and policy agendas is a value for human life that I believe NAPAWF might have simply overlooked in constructing their overall position on reproductive justice. Realizing this value and taking it to its logical end will truly give NAPAWF the solid ground on which to promote its causes.

First, the 2005 publication, RECLAIMING CHOICE, RECLAIMING THE MOVEMENT: Sexual and Reproductive Justice and Asian and Pacific American Women; A National Agenda for Action, states that "between 1994 and 2000, abortion rates fell in the United States for all groups except Asian and Pacific Islanders" (API) and suggests that (1) abortion rates remain higher because legal abortion in many of these women's country of origin (namely China and Korea) means greater acceptability for use of abortion as a method of birth control. Also, (2) lower use of prescription contraceptives than other ethnic groups contribute to increased pregnancy rates. The publication goes on to cite that 35% of pregnancies among API women end in abortion compared to 18% among White women, nearly double the rate.

Why cite such statistics? Why point out the disparity in abortion rates between Asian women compared to all women in the U.S? That Asian women are not having fewer abortions is an issue of concern within the publication. Intentional or not, this suggests something wrong with a steady abortion rate in API women against a falling trend among other ethnicities. In other words, just by calling attention to the disparity, NAPAWF is implying that API women should be seeking fewer abortions when everyone else is also seeking fewer abortions. That they continue indicates some cause for concern.*

Second, NAPAWF Organizing Director Yin Ling Leung points out a gravely critical issue in the abortion debate that I believe American pro-abortionists have intentionally suppressed--the glaring problem of abortion as a method of sex selection, particularly in Asia. In her article, "The Backwardness of Sex Selection Technologies," Leung reiterates the meagerly publicized fact that gender-based abortion/gender abortion is the reason for the disparate ratio of males to females in countries like India and China as ultrasound technology allows parents to know the gender of their fetus prior to birth. But while preference for the male gender is a defining feature of Asian culture, she believes we should not fool ourselves into thinking that the issue leaves us untouched here in America. Current biotechnologies have made much more than gender something to be considered on a consumer level. Leung writes,

"Commercialized sex selection poses several important risks for women and civil society. Gender is one of the most significant determinants of life experiences, and if we are willing to open the door to engineering this characteristic, where do we draw the line? Recently a research project documented that the vast majority of CEO's of Fortune 500 companies are male, heterosexual, light-skinned and 6 feet tall. Will couples wanting to give their children an edge in life select for such traits? Today we select for gender. Tomorrow will we select for homosexuality, skin color, eye color, IQ, height and muscles?"

"Sex selection challenges feminist and social justice activists nationally and internationally in significant ways. Much of the women's reproductive rights movement is based on a pro-choice paradigm of a "woman's right to choice" and the right to privacy. We need to grapple with and draw some lines about what "choice" and "privacy" mean in the context of the new reproductive and genetic biotechnologies. Certainly it cannot mean the unfettered right to a market-based eugenic future. The political climate in the United States is ripe to debate the language of "choice" and consolidate a framework that takes on these ethical challenges." (I checked the NAPAWF site this morning and, apparently, this article has been removed. Their opposition to sex selection still exists on their Sex Selection Factsheet.)

Leung, I believe, hits the target dead on. Instead of criticizing merely the occurrences of sex selection via abortion, she expands her consideration to the entire paradigm of abortion, specifically to the definition of choice. In effect, she is asking "The choice to do what exactly?" acknowledging that not all abortion choices are valid. The issue is simple to understand: gender abortion is a form of eugenics.

Taken together, these statements from NAPAWF are implicit and unmistakable admissions that abortion is intrinsically bad for women, even if NAPAWF supporters do not realize it. I believe Asian women are in a uniquely advantageous position to criticize and challenge the practice of abortion on demand. Our reckoning of the continuing cultural tragedy of gender abortion and gender infanticide as the moral failings that they are should serve to challenge the world into reconsidering abortion as an approved legal practice for widespread use.

Of course, more than a spoonful of sugar will make this medicine go down. Abortion advocates in the U.S. have been especially silent on reproductive technologies that hail the creeping of eugenics back into American society. From their perspective, abortion advocates know that "unfettered" rights keep the moral considerations against abortion at bay. The moment the public has a chance to deliberate reasons for limiting abortion even in any small way is to open the floodgates of conscience over whether killing the unborn is even acceptable. In other words, pro-abortionists must tolerate or even support eugenics if they don't want to end up eroding their own pro-abortion position, because all defenses of human life begin with the idea that life has intrinsic value without discrimination against race, gender, or age (even gestational age). NAPAWF must somehow succeed in convincing the reluctant U.S. pro-abortion power base that female fetuses killed by 'gendercide' should receive protection, even though such arguments contradict the doctrine of privacy and choice of a woman to determine the manner and reasons by which her baby should die.

I think this would be an obviously futile effort. We simply have no good reasons to curb the practice of sex selection or to even prevent it from spreading through biotechnology unless we first argue that the intentional killing of any fetus is a violation of her intrinsic right to life and self-determination. This, of course, is not a pro-abortion position but a pro-life position.

I would hope that this ethical dilemma will cause the leaders of NAPAWF and other Asian-based womens organizations to carefully consider what the pro-abortion position has really done to women across the world. If we reflect on the outcome, women in countries where females are devalued suffer the most as abortion and eugenic technologies advance and people use them to actualize their preferences. Here, I believe the pro-abortion position MUST fall apart. If the right to abort rests on a right to choose, then a woman has the right to choose the gender of her baby and the right to abort when her her baby fails to meet her preferences. This is the logic that maintains the injustice of gendercide.

We can do better. NAPAWF can advocate true reproductive justice by recognizing that support of abortion is a capitulation that injustice still has power over us; leaders can end the cycle of death and injury that destroys millions of innocent Asian girls and women by refusing to allow it to destroy the next generation of women while they are yet in the womb. If one views this 'right to life' as an extension of what it already advocates (fighting human trafficking and sex slavery), the affirmation of life dovetails seamlessly into NAPAWF's raison d'etre. Only in this way do we act as a sisterhood of human flourishing that rises above and seeks a more triumphant way to serve and value the rights of our Asian sisters everywhere.

*A strong pro-abortion stance needs no such concern, however; if API women prefer abortion as a primary method of birth control, then why not congratulate them on utilizing and maintaining abortion services here in the U.S?

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