Recent events make it clear that a lot still needs to be done to reclaim reproductive rights, but who is really involved?
The Alabama bill passing a near-total ban on abortions is one example of how several states have taken grown to favor the ‘heartbeat = human’ dialectic. On the other side of the spectrum, The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco recently appealed to curb the ruling put forward by the Trump Administration. If passed, the rules would impede on organizations providing healthcare to women through Title X, the 1970 law meant to make family planning services more accessible. This would essentially make it more difficult for low-income women to get abortions.
Clearly, much has been done to threaten bodily autonomy rights of women in America. However, one group goes largely unaccounted for.
Transgender and gender non-conforming individuals often get the short end of the stick when it comes to discussing abortion. What people need to remember is that the legislation preventing people from getting safe and lawful abortions is attack on not only cisgender women, but all people.
One of the main issues has to do with the fact that abortion news markets itself through language that paint it solely as a women’s rights movement.
Laverne Cox puts it best: “When we use language that excludes groups of people on pertinent issues, it can jeopardize their health and well-being.” If it isn’t enough that trans people are experiencing the most extreme versions of healthcare discrimination and inequality in staggeringly high rates of verbal and physical assault, their pregnancy narratives have gone largely unrecognized by the media.
The world we live in is very cisnormative, so cisgender experiences are what most people are aware of.
The healthcare system has done little to enable LGBTQ+ people with the protections they give their cishet counterparts. This is detrimental, because several studies have shown that queer folk are exponentially more likely to experience poverty and unemployment in their lifetime. In addition to this, they face issues of family rejection, housing discrimination, and very real dangers of violence (especially for those who do not ‘pass’ under binary gender norms). As a result, this continuous slew of abortion bans and the defunding of Planned Parenthood will only further limit the already minuscule number of quality reproductive services that cater towards the needs of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.
In this argument, it is also vital to consider that a significant number of transgender individuals actively seek abortions. This is a result of the fact that- and this is especially true for those who are transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex- there are very few resources made available to LGBTQ+ youth in regards to safe sex and contraception. What this eventually ends up doing is trapping all sorts of youth in the perpetual trap of teenage pregnancy.
A 2018 study published in Contraception: An International Reproductive Health Journal reports that of 450 self-identified trans individuals, 71% were at potential risk of unintended pregnancy, 23% stated they engaged in sexual behaviors that could result in pregnancy, and 6% reported an unplanned pregnancy. As a result, 32% had chosen to have abortions. This data should be concerning. Institutions need to recognize their experiences or risk contributing to their marginalization.
At the end of the day, the belief that people are entitled to a say over their own bodies is the very ground on which the reproductive justice movement stands on- not much else. Journalist Parker Molloy, who self-identifies as a transgender woman, summarizes the issue well. She says, “Abortion is an issue of bodily autonomy. Being trans is an issue of bodily autonomy. Abortion is a trans issue.”
There are several ways to make platforms and discussions surrounding reproductive rights more inclusive. For instance, terminology should be expanded to fit a larger demographic. Rather than referring to ‘mothers’ and using she/her pronouns, health and governmental institutions should use the gender neutral ‘they’.
Additionally, it would be advisable to avoid anatomic language as much as possible, as this hyperfocus on genitalia is often used to advance exclusionary gatekeeping tactics. Abortion rights can only be reclaimed once people’s lives are put in front of their genitalia.
Why is this so important? For one, making language explicitly inclusive is especially meaningful to transgender and gender non-conforming people. It not only signals that the people communicating with them are aware they exist, but also shows that they are in a safe place. Fears of harassment are dialed down as soon as rhetoric is made more accommodating.
That being said, this whole discussion deserves a lot of nuance- especially because it deals with matters of gender identity. For instance, some trans men may find pregnancy liberating. For others, it may be a nightmare. Experiences of reproduction and parenthood are unique in and of themselves, so why is it so difficult for the healthcare system to take this into consideration?
The time has come to act. This cannot be tolerated any longer. Cisgender people have the privilege of seeking health care and of being able to present their personal situations without fear. Activists, lawmakers, and politicians alike should be more considerate of consider transgender and gender non-conforming individuals when addressing reproductive rights. Being pro-choice is more than a women’s rights issue. It is an intersectional battle for liberation.