There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding abortion — that it’s skyrocketing, dangerous, and leads to an increased risk of suicidal ideation — and they are oft-repeated by anti-choice activists looking to mislead the public in stigmatizing a fairly common health care procedure. But there’s another myth circulated by almost everyone, including pro-choice advocates, and it’s being reinforced as the public speculates the fate of Roe v. Wade without Justice Anthony Kennedy on the court: only women get abortions.
The fallacy isn’t repeated as blatantly so, but implied through omission, repeated, and most pronounced when reproductive rights activists take to Twitter, suggesting abortion rights are synonymous with women’s rights.
"Planned Parenthood and our 11 million supporters will do everything we can to make sure that the Senate only confirms justices who explicitly state they will uphold Roe v. Wade and women’s rights to safe, legal abortion." — @dawnlaguens https://t.co/bIRyuwQDw9 #SaveSCOTUS pic.twitter.com/TN4YndeO7W
— Planned Parenthood Action (@PPact) July 3, 2018
It’s insidious. Politicians and writers exclusively center women when they talk about abortion access. On the surface, it makes sense to use the word, as one in four women will have an abortion by age 45, according to 2014 data. However, when abortion-seekers are thought of solely as women, the experiences of trans and non-binary folks are erased. These individuals also obtain the procedure because needing an abortion has to do with a person’s reproductive system and not their gender.
LGBT people get abortions. Bi and trans erasure, among other things, have allowed this truth to be ignored in so much reproductive justice discourse.
— Chase Strangio (@chasestrangio) July 3, 2018
Moreover, there’s a natural alliance between people who advocate for reproductive and LGTBQ rights, and not just because queer people need reproductive care too. Both groups share similar adversaries who act as if these individuals are not entitled to their own bodily autonomy, family and lifestyle choice, advocates told ThinkProgress.
“Patriarchy and misogyny is absolutely holding women back and actively holding back trans and non-binary folks at the same time. Our patriarchal system is about keeping cis men in power,” said Alexis Cole, policy director of URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity, who focuses on reproductive health care in the South and advocates for queering reproductive justice spaces.
“In light of Kennedy’s retirement, that also shows us the importance, given that Kennedy was an important vote on abortion and LGBTQ rights. We know our fates are sealed together here,” she added.
There’s been a concerted effort among some to be inclusive. For example, Fund Texas Women, an abortion fund group that pays for travel and hotel costs because clinics are dearth, changed its name to Fund Texas Choice in 2014, because “[they] refuse to deny the existence and humanity of trans* people any longer.”
This is why groups that work in reproductive justice — a framework created in 1994 by Black women leaders who advocated for the totality of marginalized people’s rights when talking about reproductive liberty — recommend incorporating gender-neutral language when talking about abortion. Try “pregnant person” rather than “pregnant woman,” one Forward Together guide advises.
“At the same time, we are aware that using gender-neutral language does not always highlight the disproportionate impact of abortion policies on women, institutionalized sexism, and the many efforts to undermine the self-determination and autonomy of all women, including transgender women,” according to that same 2017 guide on how to talk about abortion access.
One woman who works closely with national reproductive rights groups expressed a similar concern to ThinkProgress — that more women get abortions and so the rhetoric reflects that. She added that, from an activist’s perspective, the general public didn’t immediately understand what “pregnant people” meant.
Some groups that actively use the word “women” to describe abortion-seekers say doing so isn’t to suggest that they deny services to people who aren’t women, and are committed to helping all people receive care.
“We’re committed to dismantling the barriers that transgender men, non-binary and gender-nonconforming people, and women in the U.S. face in accessing sexual and reproductive health care – including safe, legal abortion,” Planned Parenthood’s vice president of communications wrote in a statement to ThinkProgress, when asked about the problem of erasure in some of its social media and press releases.
“We need to separate gender from the ability to reproduce, but we only talk about removing uteruses and then acting like they never existed.”
The activism focusing on women also reflects the statistics available. But there is a lack of data on trans and non-binary experiences, including abortion care, primarily because surveys generally don’t ask. The most important survey in the United States, the census, doesn’t ask about LGBTQ identities. The primary sources for abortion data nationwide — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Guttmacher Institute — also don’t collect information about gender identity and abortion. (In 2014, the Guttmacher Institute did begin to collect information on sexual orientation and abortion patients.) Even the most comprehensive, recent survey of people in the country who are transgender or gender non-conforming fails to mention abortion.
The data aside, it’s evident that trans and non-binary people do have abortions thanks to first person testimonies. Cazembe Murphy Jackson, who is a Black, Southern, queer, trans man, shared his experience of having an abortion as a storyteller with We Testify, a project of the National Network of Abortion Funds.
“I know there are other people like me, black trans men, who need to be able to see people like me talking about abortion access,” he told HelloFlo. “We need to separate gender from the ability to reproduce, but we only talk about removing uteruses and then acting like they never existed.”
For this, young grassroots activists know to be inclusive when talking about abortion access, said Cole, because they do see firsthand how communities with, for example, higher poverty rates, like trans people, face more economic barriers when trying to get an abortion. And a hobbled or overturned Roe v. Wade will exacerbate access for these same communities. As such, young activists turn to national organizations who do understand that people’s various identities — gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, race, income, zip code, disabilities — influence their ability to receive comprehensive reproductive care, added Cole.
“For the young people who are at the forefront of every civil rights movement and continue to be leaders – this is important to them. They do not separate these issues so we shouldn’t either,” said Cole.
Many LGBTQ individuals already struggle to access all-inclusive health care, with trans people facing especially significant barriers to care. “The biggest barrier to health care reported by transgender individuals is lack of access due to lack of providers who are sufficiently knowledgeable on the topic,” according to a Health and Human Services (HHS) sanctioned study. Knowledge begins with acknowledgement. When these communities are erased in abortion care, for example, this makes a bleak health access situation dangerously worse.
At a critical time when national activists seek to bring out the masses in defense of Roe v. Wade, it is more important than ever to use inclusive terms that motivate the youth, not isolate them.
Clarification: The article has been updated to clarify that the Guttmacher Institute collects information about sexual orientation but not gender identity and abortion patients.