Indian Americans Should Be Concerned About Securing Abortion Rights: Mini Timmaraju, New President of NARAL
Mini Timmaraju speaks onstage at the Women in Cable Telecommunications Leadership Conference And Touchstones Luncheon at The New York Marriott Marquis on Sept. 16, 2019 in New York City. Timmaraju has been named national president of NARAL Pro Choice America, which works to secure abortion rights. (Lawrence Busacca/Getty Images for Women in Cable Telecommunications)
By SUNITA SOHRABJI/India-West Staff Reporter
Veteran Indian American political activist Mini Timmaraju was announced Nov. 4 as the next president of NARAL, Pro Choice America, one of the most prominent organizations working to secure reproductive rights in the U.S.
“The moment that we’re in right now could not be more critical for women’s health,” Timmaraju told India-West in a Nov. 5 interview. “We have a conservative Supreme Court that is anti-abortion,” she said, adding: “I really need to be back in the fight.”
Timmaraju formerly served as Senior Advisor to the Director at the Office of Personnel Management in the Biden-Harris Administration; Hillary for America’s National Women’s Vote Director during her 2016 presidential bid; and chief of staff to Rep. Ami Bera, D-California. She has also worked in various capacities at Planned Parenthood.
Timmaraju will take up her new post Nov. 15, at the watershed moment in which women’s rights to abortion are being challenged by two cases scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court. Both laws challenge SB 8, recently-enacted legislation by Texas that bans an abortion after six weeks. The two cases are The United States vs. Texas, brought on by the Biden administration, and Whole Women’s Health vs. Jackson. Both lawsuits are attempting to block the implementation of SB 8, which essentially overturns the landmark Roe vs. Wade.
Opponents of SB 8 note that women rarely know they are pregnant by six weeks.
On a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court in September declined to block SB 8. The Biden administration’s Justice Department stepped in shortly after with its own lawsuit challenging the law.
“I have had access to excellent reproductive health care all of my life,” said Timmaraju, who grew up in Texas. Her home state, she said, has “mounted a full scale attack on reproductive rights.”
If Roe vs Wade is overturned, 19 states will follow Texas’ lead and implement a ban on abortion. Twelve states, known as “trigger states,” already have legislation set to go if Roe vs. Wade is overturned. Timmaraju noted that over half of the U.S. will have a ban on abortions, creating an overwhelming burden for states that do not have abortion bans.
Moreover, the bans will have a disproportionate impact on low-income people. “Not everyone has the resources to go to another state for an abortion,” she said, also noting the challenges for the health care system.
“If this happens, we will have fewer reproductive rights than our families in India,” Timmaraju told India-West. She noted that she was inspired by her grandmother, an intelligent woman who never had an opportunity to make a career for herself.
Indian American parents, who largely tend to be conservative and shy away from discussions about sex, must be forthright about reproductive rights, including abortions, and should support sex education being taught at schools, she said.
In 2018, the Fremont, California, Unified School District Board of Education — home to one of the largest populations of Indian Americans in the U.S. — banned sex education for 4th to 6th graders, after large groups of parents, including many Indian American parents, protested the inclusion of LGBTQ issues, the emotional and explicit aspects of sex, and other issues. Sex education has historically been taught in most San Francisco Bay Area schools within the 4th and 6th grades; but the board voted to move up the teaching to 7th through 9th graders.
Rep. Ro Khanna, who represents portions of Fremont in the House, decried the decision. “Sex education is critical for the safety of individuals of all ages, and this policy will silence voices, put students in danger, and increase overall risk in our communities.”
“I believe it is critical for kids to be learning sex education in public schools,” said Timmaraju, noting studies which document that frank discussions about sex lead to fewer unwanted pregnancies.
Bera, a physician who represents portions of Sacramento in the House, tweeted Nov. 4: Congratulations to Mini Timmaraju, my former Chief of Staff, for becoming the next NARAL President!”
“Mini and NARAL will be important partners in the fight to protect women’s access to reproductive health care, which is under attack from politicians across the country,” he wrote.
In a press statement, NARAL Pro-Choice America Board Chair Anna Burger said: “We are thrilled to welcome Mini and for her to lead NARAL Pro-Choice America at this pivotal moment. She is the leader to guide NARAL into its next chapter. We were captivated by her vision for our organization’s future and her deep commitment to equity.”
Timmaraju lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with her husband Ken Scudder, and their two adopted twin boys, Satya and Krishna, named for Timmaraju’s grandfathers. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and her J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center.