A collage of the trans visibility flag with the text "Pregnant" and then a line next to it, hinting that it's for filling in the blank.

Access Denied

Trans People Aren’t a Threat to “Womanhood”

In the wake of Roe being overturned, writers and celebrities alike claim that including trans people in the abortion conversation "erases" women. But the reverse is actually true.

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Roe v. Wade is now history. On June 24, the Supreme Court overturned it in their egregious and utterly repressive ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, eradicating the constitutional right to an abortion and setting the stage for the eradication of the right to privacy as a whole. Understandably, many Americans are upset. And in the wake of this national tragedy, many are asking: How did we get here? What brought the U.S. to this terrifying point? Who can we blame?

According to Pamela Paul of the New York Times, the answer is… trans people? She decries the erosion of abortion rights as equally fraught as the erasure of women in abortion rights messaging. 

“Even the word ‘women’ has become verboten. Previously a commonly understood term for half the world’s population, the word had a specific meaning tied to genetics, biology, history, politics, and culture. No longer. In its place are unwieldy terms like ‘pregnant people,’ ‘menstruators’ and ‘bodies with vaginas.’

… Women didn’t fight this long and this hard only to be told we couldn’t call ourselves women anymore. This isn’t just a semantic issue; it’s also a question of moral harm, an affront to our very sense of ourselves.”

As Parker Malloy astutely notes in her newsletter, “Nobody is trying to ban the word woman.” Truly. No one is doing this. No one at an abortion fund, in an abortion clinic, in a clinic escort vest—this is not happening. What is happening is an understanding of the reality of abortion patients and a compassionate, medical shift to accommodate the actual people who have abortions.

Abortion providers, clinic escorts, abortion funders, and people on the front lines of abortion access definitively know that not everyone who has an abortion is a cisgender woman. This isn’t some abstract fabrication—it’s reality. Non-binary people have abortions. Trans men have abortions. People under the age of 18 have abortions. You don’t call a 16-year-old girl a “woman” because she’s not a woman. And yet 16-year-olds still need abortion care.

Also, last time I checked, cis women were people (until the Supreme Court says otherwise), so saying “pregnant people” still includes cis women. 

So what is this really about?

Roe v. Wade wasn’t overturned because of the use of gender-inclusive language. It wasn’t trans people who championed the Hyde Amendment, who blockaded clinics, who bombed clinics, who murdered abortion providers, who stacked the courts with right-wing ideologues. It wasn’t trans people who heightened abortion stigma by calling for abortions to be “safe, legal, and rare.” Trans people haven’t been the ones in Democratic leadership who haven’t passed a single piece of meaningful abortion rights legislation in nearly 30 years.

Why does using the phrase “pregnant people,” an all-encompassing term that, again, includes cisgender women, bother these people so much?

The fact is, these folks aren’t really interested in protecting abortion access. They aren’t interested in dismantling the oppressive structures that have denied abortion access to marginalized folks, particularly women of color, for decades. If they were, they would have been doing the work. They would have known what an abortion fund was before three weeks ago. They would have volunteered as a clinic escort or walked by their neighborhood abortion clinic to show solidarity with the staff. They would have written about abortion as a matter of fundamental human dignity before the Supreme Court obliterated this most basic right. 

And they would have seen, like those of us who have done this work for years, that trans people aren’t the problem—they’re a pivotal part of the solution. Despite bigotry and violence, even from those who are supposed to be allies, that it’s routinely trans folks and queer folks who show up in the most meaningful ways to support abortion access. Staff at abortion clinics, board members of abortion funds, clinic escort volunteers—many of them are trans and queer folks. In fact, a disproportionate number of them are trans and queer folks, and that’s likely because they understand that bodily autonomy is a fundamental right, and theirs is so often denied to them by the very same transphobic people now claiming that women are being erased from abortion. 

If those who are decrying the use of gender-inclusive language in abortion rights, like Pamela Paul, would take a breath and a beat, they’d see that. But they won’t do that, because their insistence that women are being “erased” isn’t really about abortion, and it isn’t about women’s rights, either.

Instead, like the founders of the modern “religious right,” who used abortion as a Trojan Horse to oppose integration in Christian schools, those decrying the “erasure of women” in abortion rights are using this issue as their own Trojan Horse to, quite simply, shit on trans people. Trans folks, who are victims of both state and individual violence, are an easy target for lazy, histrionic, power-clinging institutionalists like Pamela Paul. They don’t to see the broader picture, one far more scary than a trans man taking a mifepristone pill—that the American democratic system is being eroded from within, and that folks like Paul (and the New York Times more broadly) had a hand in legitimizing those far-right actors to do just that.

Instead, they casually blame trans people as the reason why “women” don’t have the most basic right to determine what happens to our bodies anymore. It’s easier than looking in the mirror and reckoning with the mess you helped create.

That mess is real. Abortion rights are in a death spiral, that the fundamental right to bodily autonomy has been so severely eroded by the Dobbs ruling that it may be decades, generations, even, before we begin to claw it back. The ironic reality that Bette Midler, Macy Gray, Pamela Paul, and their ilk seem to be missing here is that it is trans people who will be harmed the most by this erosion. 

In the meantime, while the New York Times continues to churn out transphobic opinions under the guise of “both sides” objectivity, trans and queer folks will be doing the actual work to make abortion access possible. 

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