digital collage on a dark purple background of south asian people of various ages and skin tones holding one another. in the top left corner there is a logo saying "1 year post roe"
(Illustration by Jabin Ahmed)

For too long, South Asian communities have been impacted by damaging narratives surrounding abortion, perpetuating model minority stereotypes and misconceptions about sex-selective abortions. As we continue to grapple with the ramifications of a post-Roe world, it is essential to recognize that some of the most significant narratives that have shaped the fight for abortion rights involve South Asians. 

In 2012, Savita Halappanavar, a dentist in Ireland, died from sepsis after being denied a timely abortion. In 2014, Purvi Patel from Indiana suffered a late miscarriage and was sentenced to 20 years in prison due to a statewide feticide law—a law that echoed a broader national pattern of sex-selective abortion bans targeting the myth that Asian women are more likely to abort and “select” for sons.

Patel’s case, among many others, exposes the U.S.’ extensive history of policing and exploiting bodies of color, from forced sterilization to abortion criminalization. These examples lay bare the need to dismantle racist, sex-selective abortion bans and challenge the systemic injustices that disproportionately affect marginalized communities.

In the aftermath of Roe’s downfall, we at South Asian SOAR (SOAR)—a collective of South Asian survivors, organizations, and allies addressing gender-based violence—looked to our communities for stories that could shed light on the devastating impact of this decision. We knew that the impact could not be homogenized. The South Asian diaspora is diverse across numerous facets, including but not limited to ethnicity, language, religious beliefs, caste, class, gender, ability, and immigration status. However, our diaspora’s intersectional realities, if ever uplifted, continue to be generalized with broad strokes and are often overlooked in sexual and reproductive health research due to the lack of disaggregated data on specific Asian and AANHPI subgroups.

The pursuit of reproductive justice relies on the core principles of bodily autonomy and informed decision-making, which necessitate accurate and accessible information. Language justice and access play a vital role in the path to reproductive justice by addressing the language barriers that hinder individuals from accessing essential reproductive health information. To respond to this need, we created an Abortion Care Guide in May that was translated into 20 South Asian languages to empower our communities, dismantle damaging narratives, and champion language justice as a crucial component of reproductive justice. 

South Asians overwhelmingly support abortion rights but face systemic barriers

Research shows that South Asians in the U.S. overwhelmingly support and access abortion care. A survey conducted by the Sikh Family Center found that 59% of participants had either personally undergone an abortion or knew someone who had, highlighting the normalcy of abortion as a reproductive decision in the Sikh-American community. Additionally, a 2021 study found that Indian Americans have the highest abortion rate among Asian Americans in New York City, further emphasizing the importance of abortion access for South Asians. 

Our diaspora’s abortion access rates are only matched by equally supportive political stances. In Texas, 41% of South Asian voters prioritize abortion rights as a crucial concern for Congress. Data from the Pew Research Center also found that 68% of Hindus and 55% of Muslims in the U.S. advocate for the legalization of abortion in all or most cases. 

Despite this research, our community conversations revealed that many South Asians struggle to apply abortion rights values in their cultural contexts. Advocates at South Asian gender-based violence organizations emphasized that Roe was never enough to guarantee bodily autonomy or “choice” for the survivors and communities they serve due to complex cultural barriers. For one, sex and abortions are shrouded in pervasive stigma, oftentimes discouraging any kind of discussion around these topics. This reality is doubly reinforced by generations of silence that have eroded our language and ability to hold these conversations, even if we wanted to. 

“Actually, I don’t have any idea about [abortion] because I didn’t see anybody do that,” said Nasrin, a Bangladeshi participant in the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum’s recent medication abortion study. “Nobody had ever talked to me about this.” 

Our limited capacity to broach topics relating to reproductive health care not only fuels shame and isolation, but also hinders our diaspora’s ability to make informed decisions about our bodies. These consequences are further exacerbated by patriarchal ideology and harmful gender expectations that shame a woman’s sexuality, justify control of a woman’s bodily autonomy by family members, and—at worst—excuse abuse toward women.

Our cultural barriers are compounded by systemic barriers that force the most marginalized within the South Asian diaspora to either forgo reproductive health care or accept compromised care. These systemic barriers include legislative abortion restrictions and bans, a lack of linguistically accessible information, denied health care due to immigration or insurance status, and biases within mainstream medical spaces. South Asians living in states like Texas, Florida, Georgia, and Michigan face particularly uncertain futures due to rapidly changing laws around reproductive health access—a reality made even more pressing as these states are home to nearly one-third of the organizations that serve South Asian survivors of gender-based violence.

Addressing these cultural and systemic barriers is a crucial step to ensuring equitable access to comprehensive reproductive health care for South Asian survivors and communities. Justice requires a multifaceted approach that includes linguistically accessible and culturally relevant resources, improved health care access for marginalized individuals, and the dismantling of biases and stereotypes within medical spaces. Additionally, efforts should focus on challenging stigmas, promoting open dialogue, and fostering gender equality within South Asian communities to empower individuals and create a supportive environment for reproductive health and autonomy.

Reproductive justice starts (but does not end) with language justice

In creating our Abortion Care Guide in 20 South Asian languages, we hoped to model what a comprehensive, community-centered process to achieving language justice could look like for the reproductive justice movement. Data collected by SOAR on the languages spoken at South Asian gender-based violence organizations showed that 95% of organizations had the ability to offer services in Hindi, 43% in Tamil, 19% in Pashto, and 5% in Sinhala. Regardless of whether 95% or 5% of our diaspora is served in a certain language, we firmly believe everyone deserves access to reproductive health information in their most comfortably spoken tongue. 

Though essential, language and translations on their own aren’t enough to achieve accessibility, familiarity, and, importantly, visibility. Our Abortion Care Guide was brought to life through community focus groups and illustrations by activist and artist Jabin Ahmed. Through art and language, we hoped to provide a collage of diverse South Asian voices and stories that preserve cultural heritage while still challenging biases, fostering empathy, and inspiring cultural and systemic change. 

However, the burden that South Asian organizations bear in addressing the needs of our communities is unjust and unsustainable. We are often left to shoulder the responsibility that larger and well-funded institutions neglect, creating an inequitable power dynamic. It is time for real systemic changes that challenge the perception and treatment of AAPI and South Asian communities by the state and health care systems. The urgency of this moment demands a paradigm shift, where the resilience and power of community-led initiatives like SOAR are not exceptions but the norm. To achieve this vision, we demand concrete actions and commitments from those in positions of power. We see the Abortion Care Guide as another one of our critical contributions to the fight for abortion rights and access, but more importantly, we see it as our first step in advancing South Asian reproductive justice as part of the greater reproductive justice movement.

Amrita Doshi is a co-founder and the executive director of South Asian SOAR. Amrita's entry point into this work, like many, begins with survivorship. In addition to this, Amrita is a cultural organizer,...

Yasmine Ramachandra, SOAR's digital organizing fellow, is a nonbinary, queer, disabled policy advocate and community organizer based in Chicago. They are of Indian-Kenyan diasporic descent and approach...

Nashi Gunasekara is a Sri Lankan-American policy advocate and strategist born, raised, and based in California. Currently South Asian SOAR’s policy & systems change manager, Nashi co-led the development...