Healthcare & racism: how ‘sex-selection’ is used to discriminate against migrant communities

This week the South Australian lower house (House of Assembly) is debating the Termination of Pregnancy Bill (the Bill). Two amendments have been proposed that attempt to define and ban sex-selective abortion.

The amendments proposed in the lower house would have consequences for migrant communities and communities of colour in South Australia. Here we outline the key consequences and action required.

Existing barriers to healthcare would be amplified

The Right to Health includes sexual and reproductive health, and enshrines health access as free discrimination or judgement. But rather than addressing discrimination, these amendments are more likely to facilitate it.

Many migrant communities and communities of colour already experience reduced access to healthcare and treatment outcomes. Such an amendment risks amplifying racial profiling and discrimination in our healthcare system — as patients will undoubtedly be targeted based on their ethnic origin.

Already marginalised communities would be stigmatised and traumatised

Any such ban would essentially operate to require doctors to police their patients and subject them to interrogation about the reasons they need to access abortion care, to try and rule out sex-selection as a motivation. This could force patients to disclose what may be complex, distressing and difficult circumstances, and could further stigmatise and traumatise members of already marginalised communities.

Trust would be eroded between doctors and their patients

Given the difficulty of ruling out motivations for needing healthcare, and the likely profiling of particular community members on this question, such a requirement could erode trust between doctors and patients by encouraging doctors to treat some patients with suspicion. It risks increasing discrimination and further excluding migrant and culturally diverse communities from accessing the quality healthcare they require.

Legislation would be based on myths and misconceptions rather than expert advice

International expert advice confirms that sex-selective narratives in abortion care are problematic. The World Health Organisation, Office of the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Population Fund, UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), and UN Women has published a joint interagency statement explaining that imposing restrictions on access to health services like abortion for sex-selective reasons has harmful impacts on patients, and puts their health and life in jeopardy.

The Bill needs to be passed without harmful amendments

It is vital that patients from migrant backgrounds, and other traditionally marginalised communities, feel safe and in control of their healthcare — and are able to access the abortion care they need without fear of vilification or increased restrictions due to discrimination.

Organisations and services working with and for culturally diverse and migrant communities have expressed their concerns in an Open Letter. It is vital the any legislation recognises the impacts on our diverse communities, and it is too common that migrant communities, and communities of colour pay the price for misguided legislation. South Australia needs to stand against discrimination in our healthcare system, and vote for the Termination of Pregnancy Bill without amendments.

Neha Madhok has over a decade of experience in Australian political campaigning and is driven by the power of grassroots organising to win tangible outcomes for social justice. Currently, Neha is a National Director at Democracy in Colour — the first Australia-wide organisation led by and for people of colour, and for economic justice. Previously she was a Senior Campaigner at 350.org Australia. Neha has worked on the Yes campaign for Marriage Equality, and she was a Digital Campaigner in the Australian union movement.

Jamal Hakim is the Managing Director at Marie Stopes. He holds two Bachelors in Commerce and Asian Studies from the ANU, and a Juris Doctor from RMIT. Jamal was born in Kuwait, and is of Lebanese heritage. He grew up in Ngunnawal country in a multi cultural community, with personal experience of the impacts of health bias against people of colour. Having worked in complex environments throughout his career, Jamal aims to balance culture, commercial sustainability and mission. He currently holds several board appointments, including with Democracy in Colour, MS Health Pty Ltd and Marie Stopes Papua New Guinea. In 2020, Jamal was elected as a Councillor for the City of Melbourne.

Want to get involved in South Australian abortion law reform? Follow the South Australian Abortion Action Coalition on Twitter or Facebook. Follow Democracy in Colour on Twitter or Facebook. Support Fair Agenda. Subscribe to the Human Rights Law Centre. Hold space for your friends and family to speak about abortion, because chances are a number of them have had one too.

Marie Stopes Australia is the leading, accredited, national provider for abortion, contraception and vasectomy.