Although Roe v. Wade protects a woman’s right to get an abortion, in many states, abortion is already inaccessible. In 2013, Texas’ HB 13 required abortion facilities to meet hospital-like standards, effectively closing half of all the facilities — and although it was overturned a few years later, a majority of counties still don’t have clinics that provide abortion.
Last month, abortion access in Texas suffered another blow when SB 8 passed on Sept. 1. We sat down with Aimee Arrambide, executive director of Avow Texas, to discuss her advocacy work and why Asian Americans need to be more vocal about abortion access.
*This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
GO: Tell us about yourself and how you got into this work.
AA: My father was a physician and abortion provider in Texas, and that’s where I first learned about what abortion was and became interested in advocating for abortion. When I was small, I really admired what my dad did: He was an OB-GYN — he delivered me. I was super proud of that.
Then, I was at school one day, and another child told me that my dad killed babies for a living, and I didn’t understand what they were talking about. When I confronted my parents, they tried to explain to me what an abortion was. I was in fourth or fifth grade. I didn’t understand so my father took me to a clinic that he worked at. My family lived in San Antonio and he would drive every other Friday to Laredo and on the alternating Fridays to Corpus Christi to provide abortions. He took me with him to Laredo, and I saw the full waiting room; I saw people waiting all day for my dad to come once every two weeks to provide this service and just how grateful they were. They treated him like a hero. While I don’t think I understood exactly what the medical procedure was, I understood that he helped people in a way that was really life-changing.
At that point, I was like, “I am going to become a doctor. I am going to do exactly what he does, because I want to make that kind of change in people’s lives.” Then, a couple years later, he took me to see a C-section and I was really grossed out, and I decided I was not going to be a doctor. But I wanted to make the kind of impact like he did. That’s what led me to become an abortion advocate, and [what] eventually led me to law school and to do the work I do now.
GO: That’s amazing! Just to clarify, since your dad was an OB-GYN, abortion services are just part of any regular health care that an OB-GYN would provide.
AA: Yes, but he also provided it specifically in abortion clinics, and not so much a part of his daily practice.
GO: Now that you are in this work of abortion advocacy, what would you like to see happen?
AA: I would love for abortion to be available to everyone regardless of how much money they have, where they live, etc. I think that abortion should be accessible for self-managed abortion if that’s what people are comfortable with because it is absolutely safe enough. I would love to see my job and the movement I am in be[come] obsolete because abortion is just an accessible part of health care that everyone can get. That’s what I would love to see — although we are very, very far away from that, especially in Texas.
I think that one of the other things that influenced me as I got older is that my dad is from Mexico and my mother is from the Philippines. Both my parents came from super Catholic upbringings yet still believed in abortion access and abortion care. My mother was a medical student in the Philippines, and [when] she was doing her OB-GYN rotation, she witnessed what it looked like in a country that basically outlawed contraceptives and abortion, and [how people tried] to self-manage their own abortions when it wasn’t safe. She saw that people didn’t have the choice to form the families that they wanted; [instead] they were forced into pregnancy and having many kids, and she saw the detrimental effects of not having those [alternative] options. She ended up not being an OB-GYN; she ended up being a psychiatrist. But I think [she] still believes in the right to abortion, despite and almost because of her Catholic upbringing. So I think there is a lot of misconception that Catholic people are very anti-abortion, and I don’t think that’s necessarily the case.
GO: I totally understand because my parents are also from the Philippines and my great-grandma had 10 children, so I do understand the plight of what goes on over there in the archipelago. That’s fascinating that both your parents came from these Catholic backgrounds but also understand the importance of abortion as health care.
In your work, and as you identify as an Asian American, where do you find that Asian Americans typically stand on this issue?
AA: I think Asian Americans typically are pro-choice. They believe in trusting families and individuals to make those decisions for themselves. At least, that’s what I have encountered in my work.
I will say though that I don’t think that Asian and Asian American cultures are represented well in abortion rights work. I think that NAPAWF [National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum] is doing an amazing job. I advocate for them, and they are one of the very first organizations where I actually met another Filipino doing this work and had similar conversations about what it was like to grow up Catholic but very pro-choice, and how my parent’s upbringing actually cultivated this in me. But that was after years of doing this work and not meeting another Filipino. It was really important to me when I met the people from NAPAWF and saw people who had similar backgrounds but still advocate for this work. I think that’s really empowering. It’s not that I don’t think there are enough [people] doing this work; I think a lot of us are doing this work — it’s just that a lot of us are not represented. And that’s why it is really important to me to talk about my identity because I think it is really relevant to the reasons why.
GO: That is very true. I think we aren’t well represented, and I am wondering if that’s because of the stereotype that Asian Americans are apolitical and don’t want to take a stand.
AA: I think that’s absolutely true and that it contributes to it. And then, I think that there is a dismissal of whether the Asian people are from a Catholic country or from a conservative country. There’s a dismissal that [goes like] “Of course, they are not going to be pro-choice” or that they are apolitical for those reasons. But I think it is not true.
GO: I feel like when it comes to politics the older generation feels that it is a private matter and that everyone will vote privately and do their own thing and whatever is “right” will shake loose. But then the younger generation is very active about issues like climate change and even reproductive justice. It is interesting that there is this divide about how politics plays into our lives.
AA: The younger generations, they blow me away. They are so unapologetically standing for what they believe in and it makes me so happy to witness.
GO: So I want to talk about what’s going on in Texas.
AA: Texas is a pretty gerrymandered state. We are a pretty non-voting state, a voter-suppressed state. Over the past decade and a half, in terms of abortion rights, people were pretty complacent that it was a right. We didn’t pay attention to what was happening. And so anti-abortion movements were coordinating, and they introduced bans over and over again. At first, it seemed a little unreasonable and just outrageous. And after introducing the bans over and over, after having communications campaigns where they were able to justify the bans through medical inaccuracies and blatant lies in many cases, they were able to start passing them under the guise of keeping women safe, under the guise of protecting unborn life, under all of these falsehoods that they report. In actuality, they have done nothing to help the health care system; they’ve done nothing to ensure that marginalized communities have access to what they need. But they have been very successful at banning abortion.
SB 8 in particular is something that is unbelievably egregious. It not only bans abortion at around six weeks before a lot of people know that they are pregnant. It creates the civil course of action that would allow anyone to sue anyone for “aiding and abetting abortion care.” Not only that, the person suing does not have to be aggrieved. It throws out the traditional definition of standing where you have to have been injured by the person [in order] to sue, or you have to suffer damages. That doesn’t have to occur in order for anyone to sue people. [Since Sept. 1] they can just claim that people are aiding and abetting abortion and sue them. And there’s not any sort of deterrent. If you are found to not be in the right, you would have to pay attorney fees for the opposition that doesn’t happen. This is basically emboldening any anti-abortion person to sue anyone they disagree with on abortion rights, where they can assert that it is aiding and abetting regardless of if it is true. First of all, it is horrendous because abortion is pretty much outlawed [because of this], but then this whole civil cause of action is contrary to the judicial system, contrary to typical judicial procedures.
GO: So they can sue anyone they know who provides abortions…[TW: rape, survivorship]
AA: Or anyone who is helping someone get access to abortion. If someone tells them all their options — for instance, a rape counselor telling a survivor [about their] options if they are pregnant, and abortion happens to be one of them — that person can get sued. A mother drives her child to the doctor; that woman can get sued. It is completely unreasonable and highly unconstitutional.
You compile that with the fact that we are in our second special session, and they had a hearing for SB 4 which would basically ban medical abortions [i.e., via medication] after seven weeks. The FDA protocol allows for medical abortions well past seven weeks, but Texas wants to roll that back and ban it after seven weeks. They not only have passed that from the state Senate, but basically had a hearing yesterday that did not allow for public testimony; they did not do a video stream, which they normally do. It was completely behind closed doors that they did this. It was just another affront to our legislative system and public involvement. It’s just kind of bonkers right now in Texas.
GO: As oppressive as those systems are right now, what are steps that people can take?
AA: Donating and supporting abortion funds. Abortion funds are organizations that help pay for the procedure or help pay for the logistics that people need leading to the procedure, such as travel, accommodation, childcare. I think people should donate, volunteer, and support abortion funds, because they really need it.
Making sure that people get involved by talking to their elected officials and telling them that abortion is one of their priorities, that they believe in it, that abortion cannot be thrown under the bus for other progressive issue areas is really important. Something that has happened [during] many sessions [in the past] is that abortion tends to be the thing that gets traded away or not prioritized. And so while other progressive issues can be saved, abortion [rights] gets further chipped away.
Talking about abortion and how you feel about abortion is super important. The fact that one in four people who are capable of pregnancy will have an abortion in their lifetime is a really important fact that we kind of spout off in the movement. But the reality is that we do all know and love someone who has had an abortion, and they may not feel that they can talk to you about it.
Being very open [about supporting] abortion is so important. One of the things we also do is tell people to use the word “abortion.” The anti-abortion movement uses that word four to one times more than our side does and because they have been doing such a good job of using that word, they are able to spread the lies. They’ve even modeled a lot of the laws based on the rhetoric — that is completely medically inaccurate — but they have used [it] so much that that’s now in the titles of bills.
We use the term “pro-abortion” and a lot of people, even supporters who believe in abortion access, are horrified. I think it is really important though as a person who had an abortion, a person who had my abortion and can attribute it to saving my life and letting me go on the trajectory I am now and starting my family when I was ready. I am pro-abortion. For a lot of people, abortion was the best choice and the key factor in their future. And so, I am pro-abortion and not afraid to so say it. [Read more about why Aimee and Avow Texas uses the term pro-abortion.]
GO: There is definitely a movement to have women and people who get pregnant to have beautiful abortion experiences. That’s actually a thing and so important to people. It is not something you should fear, be scared of, or ashamed of.
AA: As an organization, we aren’t part of a medical facility, and so we have the privilege to talk about abortion in such a positive light. Almost the opposite extreme of the anti-abortion people because we have to reduce the stigma. It is so important.
GO: Since not all our readers reside in Texas, tell us how SB will affect the rest of us in the United States. There’s a lot of talk about states trying to push this up to the Supreme Court in order to change Roe.
AA: It’s important to note that while Roe v. Wade legalized abortion across the country, it did not guarantee people access to it, and it has never been adequate to make sure that people have access to abortion, especially the most marginalized, especially the people who live in rural communities or don’t have the funds, all those things. While Roe v. Wade was great, it was not enough. That’s important to note.
While we have all been a bit complacent knowing that we have the right to abortion at the federal level, states have been chipping away at abortion, either implementing these bans that slowly get rid of access to abortion, whether that’s at 15 weeks or six weeks or for x, y, z reasons. States have been chipping away. They have also been introducing what we call “trigger bans,” where they say, “As soon as Roe v. Wade gets overturned, we are banning abortion in our state.” And then they have also been introducing all these bills and then challenging them, and federal courts have been implementing different decisions — so contrary decisions. One of the bills that was challenged in Mississippi that would ban abortion after 15 weeks is actually heading to the Supreme Court. What will happen if the anti-abortion majority is able to turn over the 40-plus years of precedent that have already been established and protected abortion rights is that abortion will become banned in probably around 24 states, if not more. [Check out the Center for Reproductive Rights to see predictions about where states will fall if Roe is overturned.]
That’s important to note that what is happening at the state level can make its way up to the Supreme Court and result in abortion being banned for a significant number of states in this country. That’s why not only does it need to be protected at the federal level, which is what advocates are trying to do with the Women’s Health Act, but states also need to do that work of protecting abortion access.
GO: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
AA: Just that I believe that the majority of people do support abortion access. I would venture to say — although I don’t have the numbers — that a majority of Asian and Asian American people support abortion access as well. It’s important to note that a lot of the bans and policies restricting abortion do not represent what the majority of people want. We are past the time of being complacent, we are past the time of not talking about abortion in our communities. That’s how we affect change and create the change. We need to talk about it, we need to talk about our own abortions, we need to talk about how we support abortion access. That’s really fundamental to making sure that we have this right going forward. I think that Asian and Asian American communities can be a big part of that and already are.
The Fall 2021 issue exists in the liminal space bounded by fear, superstition, and taboos in order to decolonize all that goes bump in the night. From taboos to tradition, check out Mochi’s latest issue here! And if you like what you are reading, please support us through our end-of-year Ko-Fi campaign.