For and against: Indian-Americans weigh-in on Roe v Wade  

A billboard advertising adoption services targets pregnant women at a bus stop in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S., December 7, 2021. Photo: REUTERS-Evelyn Hockstein

The 98-page draft opinion of Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito on the 50-year old abortion rights case Roe v. Wade, which was leaked May 2, 2022, and the subsequent defeat of the Women’s Health Protection Act May 11, by the United States Senate, have evoked strong reactions nationally. Among Indian-Americans, the views are not as clearly divided with Hindu organizations expressing pro-life views and Indian Republicans adopting party line even but with qualifications.

While Democrats are clearly opposed to any restrictions on a woman’s right to choose, the views of Indian-American leaders on the Republican side of the divide, are more nuanced than the national debate reveals.

Last year, the House of Representatives passed the Women’s Health Protection Act to guarantee abortion as a right, but the Senate failed to advance the Act in order to codify abortion rights in a 51-49 vote this May 11.

A group of progressive women House Democrats including Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, who keenly watched the debate, had even marched through the Senate halls chanting “my body, my decision,” as the upper house voted on the Act.

After the Senate vote to reject the Act, Vice President Kamala Harris speaking to the press, said, “… sadly, the United States Senate did not vote where the majority of Americans are — which is the majority of Americans believe in a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body. The Senate had an opportunity today to defend that right, they failed to do so. But let’s be clear this fight is not over. And clearly, we also know that we need to elect pro-choice leaders from the local to the federal level, who will defend and uphold a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body.”

FILE PHOTO: Pro-abortion demonstrators protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court after the leak of a draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito preparing for a majority of the court to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision later this year, in Washington, U.S. May 3, 2022. REUTERS/Michael A. McCoy/File Photo

Jayapal tweeted, “Once again, despite the impending reversal of Roe v. Wade, the Senate has failed to protect reproductive rights in America. This is a sad day, but the battle isn’t nearly over. I’m going to continue fighting every day to protect abortion rights for all. That’s a promise,” adding, “while people are rightfully scared by the news over the past week, I want to take a moment to remind everyone that Roe is still the law of the land. Abortion is still legal across the country — and we will fight tooth and nail to keep it that way.”

In his tweet, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois, stated, “I’m incredibly disappointed to see all Republican senators voted against codifying a woman’s right to choose into law. We must not be deterred and embrace every legislative avenue to protect the right to choose.”

Responding to the leaked draft opinion, Congressman Ami Bera, D-California, stated that women’s health decisions should only be made by them and their doctors, and not by politicians.  Dr. Bera, a physician, tweeted, “if handed down, the draft opinion by #SCOTUS would be an egregious assault on the constitutionally protected right to reproductive care. Roe v. Wade empowers women across the country to make their own health decisions and it must be defended.”

Indian-American Virginia State Senator, Ghazala Hashmi, following the draft opinion leak, in a statement, said, “We know the people don’t want this. We have plenty of evidence that shows the majority of Americans oppose overturning Roe v. Wade – in fact, a recent poll [has] that number at 72%. The Court said they want to let the states fight it out. Well, I’m here for it. My fellow Virginians can be assured they have a fierce advocate for women’s reproductive freedom on their side.”

Indian American Democratic candidates contesting for Governor, and Lt. Governor in Maryland also reacted to the leaked opinion and felt women should have the right to choose.

Calling the leaked opinion “deeply concerning,” Aruna Miller, candidate for Lt. Governor of Maryland, told News India Times, “no one has a right to decide on what a woman can do with her body besides herself and her physician. That’s what I say. We’re going to fight as hard as we can to make sure that this does not get overturned. And should it, it would be tragic for our country. Because, the individuals that are going to suffer the most are those in our underserved communities. Just because you ban abortion does not mean it’s not going to continue. All it means is you’re banning safe legal access to reproductive health care.”

Ashwani Jain, candidate for Governor of Maryland, told News India Times, “I’m disgusted, I’m angry. I was the first candidate in the entire state of Maryland to release a comprehensive reproductive justice platform in January 2021. We were already preparing to make sure that we give people access to health care. And I’m sad to say that people in other states are not going to have full access to health care that they need. But at least in Maryland, we’re going to make sure we are an abortion sanctuary, and we’re not discriminating anyone based on the services they need.”

Shekhar Tiwari, chairman of the American Hindu Coalition, felt the draft opinion’s leak needs to be condemned and investigated. And he expressed a more nuanced interpretation of abortion.

“We condemn the leak. It is a matter for law enforcement to investigate and bring the leaker to justice,” Tiwari told News India Times. “With respect to abortion, we do not believe that it is a political issue, rather it is a values issue. Hindu Americans agree with 66 per cent of the American public (regardless of party affiliation), limited abortion up to third trimester is preferred. Open-ended abortion up until the third trimester is morally difficult to accept.”

But some Republican Indian-Americans did oppose Roe v Wade.

Former Republican Candidate for Lt. Governor of Virginia  Puneet Ahluwalia, told News India Times “I will always choose life as it is precious and a gift from the almighty. It is another radical imposition of Democratic agenda on Americans and to intimidate our justices,” Ahluwalia said, but qualified his views by emphasizing, “Most Americans believe that third trimester abortions should be prohibited in most or all cases.”

However, Pawan Singh, a conservative activist in Virginia who was a 2020 Republican National Committee delegate, toed the  party’s line.

“I certainly believe that abortion should not be treated as a method to control birth. When a baby is conceived, it’s not your opinion to kill that baby or not,” Singh said. “I understand that there are certain circumstances from time to time, in cases of incest and rape, that an abortion is the only option,” but he contended, abortion should not be pushed as a form of contraception.



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