This story has been updated .
Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has finally announced its long-awaited and dreaded decision that leaked last month , restricting abortion rights by overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade decision , much of the news coverage will be centered around women, specifically, cisgender women.
That's logical, and not unexpected, especially since women number 167.5 million, a clear majority of Americans, five million more people than those who identify as male. Many people, even some members of the LGBTQ+ population, see this issue as primarily impacting straight cisgender women. So why talk about anyone else?
- Not all the cisgender women getting pregnant are straight. More than half of LGB people say they're bisexual, according to the Williams Institute at the U.C.L.A School of Law , and about 3.5% of all Americans say they're lesbian, gay or bi.
- Even though research shows that lesbian adults are half as likely as straight women to get pregnant, pregnancies are actually more common among LGB youth than compared to their heterosexual counterparts, according to a 2015 study of New York City high school students.
- Prioritizing cis straight women in the debate over this issue too often leaves out transgender men, each of whom also has a uterus, as well as nonbinary individuals. Their reproductive rights are just as endangered by the justices' decision.
It should also be noted that some people, like Atlantic staff writer Helen Lewis , are pre-emptively dismissing the impact on this community by rejecting words such as "pregnant people," as if the words "people" or "person" no longer applies to women.
So is identifying as a woman now a prerequisite for being part of the discussion? Not everyone with a uterus does so. It's estimated that one in every 100,000 people in the U.S. is a trans man, and that's considered to be an undercount. Last year, the Williams Institute said 1.2 million American adults identify as nonbinary.
Is there a connection between the abortion debate and the movement to squash the rights of trans and nonbinary Americans? Why not explore that intersection?
In search of answers, award-winning journalist and TransLash creator Imara Jones joined Cathy Renna, the communications director for the National LGBTQ Task Force , in a Zoom conversation with me about reproductive rights and transgender identity.
What's Being Decided
First, some background: The leak of a February draft obtained by Politico, and verified by Chief Justice John Roberts . indicated the majority of conservative justices long ago decided the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health in favor of Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban, a decision that will also allow other states to restrict abortion even before a fetus is viable.
The opinion by Associate Justice Samuel Alito makes clear the court has entirely overturned Roe vs. Wade, which established the federal right to an abortion. "Roe was egregiously wrong from the start," wrote Alito.
- As Forbes has reported, if the high court overturns Roe, 13 states have "trigger bans" in effect that will ban abortion immediately or soon after the ruling is announced, as compiled by the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute: Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.
- Another five states still have abortion bans from before Roe was decided that will go back into effect if it's struck down: Alabama, Arizona, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Michigan, whose pre-Roe ban Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) is now challenging in court .
- Georgia, Iowa, Ohio and South Carolina have six-week abortion bans that would likely now take effect, and the Guttmacher Institute predicts it's likely that Florida, Indiana, Montana and Nebraska would also move to ban the procedure.
- Democratic-led states are expected to preserve abortion access, with 16 states already having a law or state Constitution that protects abortion rights, according to the Pew Charitable Trust: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, plus Washington, D.C.
- Some states like Washington are also enacting laws that are designed to help ensure people can travel from other states for the procedure.
- The Food and Drug Administration changed its regulations in December 2021 to allow medication abortion pills to be sent by mail, which would expand access to abortion, but at least 19 states have bans on getting the pills delivered by mail or via telehealth, passing laws requiring a medical clinician to be physically present when abortion pills are administered to a patient: Republicans in South Dakota, Texas, Kentucky, Arkansas, Ohio, Tennessee and Oklahoma have moved to further restrict access to abortion pills in recent months.
- We should expect protests and counter demonstrations unlike anything we've seen since January 2017, when millions marched around the world in support of women's rights. Already, clashes outside the Supreme Court between pro-choice and anti-abortion forces have escalated to the point that a tall steel fence now surrounds the landmark building.
As the Washington Post reported, advocates for abortion access have been demonstrating for weeks outside the high court, and on Tuesday they outnumbered opponents by about 2-1. Supreme Court Police arrested three people that morning and transported them to a city jail, according to Supreme Court spokeswoman Patricia McCabe. She said in an email to the Post the three had entered an unauthorized area on court grounds and refused to leave.
While it's too late for the shouting, civil disobedience and the forthcoming marches to change the opinion of the justices, advocates Imara Jones and Cathy Renna are aiming to change the minds of those who don't see the LGBTQ+ connection to this issue.
The Intersection of Reproductive and Trans Rights
Before our conversation, I consulted my friend and former boss, award-winning queer journalist Sunnivie Brydum , the editorial director for Yes! Magazine and a former colleague of Jones, to ask why she thought someone trans would have something to say about abortion, and why people should hear what Jones in particular has to say.
"Because reproductive rights impact trans people," said Brydum. "Because she’s smart and savvy and understands intersectionality. Oh, and she probably wants her friends who have uteruses to, you know, be able to make decisions about their bodies the same way she wants to be able to make decisions about her body."
The following conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and for space.
Dawn Ennis: Would you explain why the fight for reproductive rights, for body autonomy, is also a transgender rights issue?
Imara Jones: I think there are two major reasons. One is philosophical and one is operational. Philosophically, it’s the same fight, because this is essentially a fight over the control of our bodies, and whether or not our personhood is bigger than our bodies or our personhood is defined by our bodies. It’s literally the question.
For the people who oppose abortion rights—and tied to that, it’s body autonomy, because, of course, we understand that is the abortion conversation for them, using their lens, is also tied to issues around contraception, and also tied to a host of other issues that are about whether or not people control their bodies, beyond abortion. They’re already moving on to some of those other issues. For them, this idea is that you are defined by your body because God defines who you are through the composition of your body. It’s essentially a religious vision of the world.
Jones, cont'd.: And for everyone who doesn’t share that limited religious vision, our personhood is bigger than our bodies. Most women see themselves as being larger than their uterus. They don’t see themselves as being reduced to the size of your uterus, your fist. People understand that we’re more than that. That we’re larger than that. And so there’s a philosophical unity among everyone who doesn’t share this very narrow, Christian, nationalist vision, and the issue of body autonomy, that our personhood is larger than that. And then I think. operationally, the way that it’s connected is that the exact same groups that are behind and who oppose abortion rights are the exact same groups that are driving the anti-trans backlash and legislative process across the states.
Jones, cont'd: In their world view, the problem embodied by replacement theory and driving that conspiracy is, in part, immigration, and then the fact that not enough white people are having babies. And so the way that you fix that is by eliminating abortion and initiating conversion therapy to stop people from being gay, and you stop allowing people to talk about it. And thirdly, you stop this trans thing. For them, those three things together allows them to fix this problem of white people being in a diminishing majority. That’s what’s happening. And so, they’ve operationalized it through this backlash that is both coordinating and learning from the abortion movement. And it’s the exact same groups.
Ennis: Which groups?
Jones: It’s of course, the Heritage Foundation, the Family Research Council, the Alliance Defending Freedom and Focus on the Family that have been involved in this since the beginning.
Ennis: You've said reproductive rights is an intersectional issue. Who will be most impacted, losing their rights, when this decision comes down?
Jones: We know historically that the people that are most impacted by these decisions are going to be people who are not rich. Because if you're rich, this is not going to be a problem; You’ll get on a plane and you go somewhere, right? You’re going to, you know, to another state. You’re going to Mexico or Canada, you’ll fold it in to a trip to the United Kingdom. You’ll figure something else out. But for everyone else, it’s a problem, especially the more reliant you are on the state for your medical care. And so, it disproportionately impacts Black and brown people through Medicare and Medicaid. The more reliant you are on the state for your Medicaid, the more impacted you are by the state setting rules as to what you can and cannot access. So, therefore, consequently, for Black and brown people, this is a clear intersectional issue because as we know, it’s also tied to other issues, tied to medical care, such as doctors being afraid to perform certain procedures because they could be interpreted as being an abortion when you’re just trying to preserve someone’s life. So there are lots of ways in which these overlap.
Ennis: I’m always amazed that people don’t understand that Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of trans affirming care in America and to put them on the outs is basically to stop people from being able to fulfill their need for gender affirming healthcare.
Cathy Renna: That’s something that’s not abstract. It’s very tangible, and it helps people understand the connection. But I think the challenge that we face, those of us who get it and who are looking at this in a progressive, intersectional way, is that we have to look within our own communities at the sexism, the misogyny, the racism, the classism that are contributing to our inability to fight back at the capacity that we need to.
Jones: The thing that I always underscore to people is that the way that the right fight is actually intersectional, that is to say, that they understand that we’ve got these issues overlapping. And while most people on the left don’t know that about Planned Parenthood, I guarantee you that the right wing organizations do. And they clearly understand what they are doing. And in all of this, one of the issues as well is that progressives aren’t as good as they need to be about embracing trans issues. So, there’s reticence, I am positive, on Planned Parenthood, from making this a point or an issue, because of a lot of internal politics and things that they’re also sorting out. I think that we’re in this situation because of some housecleaning that has to be done in progressive communities in a lot of different ways.
The way that we’ve been doing it, at TransLash, is through our campaign Trans Bodies, Trans Choices, which is anchored by three short films of trans people telling their stories of abortion and reproductive justice. And those wrenching stories have now been entered into three film festivals, including Outfest, beginning July 14.
My Abortion Saved My Life tells the story of Cazembe Murphy Jackson, a Black trans activist living in Atlanta, Ga., who shares why his access to abortion was vital to his life.
Jones, cont'd.: There’s going to be a whole panel around it. It's part of a long educational effort of promoting writings from trans people with their experience and body autonomy, a podcast , a major town hall with the Task Force that brought hundreds of people into this conversation, and we also did things on digital and social media. And so that was the way that we decided to use trans visibility to highlight and underscore this issue, with the intersection of body autonomy and trans issues, reproductive justice and and race. And, you know, it’s something that people in our audience want to hear.
Ennis: And how do you reach those who aren't hearing it?
Jones: The way to get to those people, is that you get to them through humanity and through story. And I was actually on a program earlier last week with a state senator from Utah, who I didn’t know existed, who was Republican, who voted against the trans bans in that state, and said that he had been anti-trans until he had been introduced to a trans person. And then that person put together a meeting with other trans people for him. And he really took the time to talk to everyone, to learn their stories. And then he said it totally switched his view. So that's one of the things that we can have: hope, the power of story, and the power of humanity, to be able to move people, which I think is one of the things that will come, even after that traumatic Washington Post poll that came out on trans athletes. It said you’re more likely to be supportive of trans rights if you know someone who is trans. And that just was a really clear trend that came out of it. Our ability to be able to underscore our humanity and connect with people, I think, is the thing that helps us.
And I also think, though, that it’s not only the other side. You have to start building out from where you are. And there’s a tremendous resistance to engaging on our issues in a full throated way by mainstream LGBTQ organizations that have fallen flat. The people who are able to have the galas where they will attract millionaires and billionaires and stars as the people who are up on the hill all the time, who have those relationships with with senators and all the rest of it. There’s a tremendous resistance among those people to our issues. And so there also is is a dynamic here, where our work isn’t only on the other side. It’s on our own side. And and, you know, the right does understand that those divisions exist, and they get exploited.
Ennis: You sound like you're describing fault lines and earthquakes.
Jones: That's exactly right.
Renna: The lack of visibility of Black and brown women and women of color in the movement basically caused the creation of organizations that were made up of Black and brown women who cared about reproductive rights, and looked at it in an intersectional way through the lens of race and economics, etc.. So you’re talking about this from many different sides, not just the LGBTQ community.
Like Gendercool: Young people who are willing to be out there and tell their stories and offer hope. And they’re being invited in. They’re being invited into corporations. They’re being invited to universities. They’re invited to the White House. And they are being very, very visible.
Renna, cont'd.: I mean, we have to balance this, what is obviously the tremendous challenge for this upcoming decision, with what I feel hopeful about, which is a current generation that is that has grown up and is coming of age in a culture where there’s much more acceptance than when I was their age. And so they need to take that and go with it. Kids who, like my daughter, will shrug their shoulders or your kids, Dawn, who shrug their shoulders at this, but hopefully they won’t just do that, will realize that it’s still incredibly important to remain engaged and involved, because for all the progress we make we’re seeing now, the pendulum can swing back the other way.
The other side sees an opportunity or an advantage. And certainly they did see that with the Supreme Court, with local elections, school boards, the upcoming midterms. You don’t want it to be all doom and gloom, but the reality is that it’s pretty scary. It is the beginning. It’s not the end, as we know.
Jones: I think that the most important thing is that people need to understand that control over our bodies is control over our lives. And that’s true for every single person. And that if you begin to legislate what the state can tell you what you can do with your body, whether or not you have to give birth or whether or not you cannot engage in gender affirming care, or whether or not you can not have contraception and on and on and on.
Ennis: How do you remain calm and focused in the face of this?
Jones: Well, I think two things. I think, one, I have a perspective that these fights play out over a long period of time in American history. When you look at them, we have to understand that like these are really long fights and that there’s no loss in American politics that is permanent and neither is any gain. It is a constant struggle. And I think adjusting our idea that there’s certain things that are permanent, and therefore, when people thought that these issues were permanent, they relax and move on.
I remember when I was in high school and they would very much talk about, you know, back alley abortions, and abortion bans, as a thing of the past, and that we had really moved on and that was ancient history, and that the place the country was in was an entirely different place. Not really!
Jones, cont'd.: Always understand that every development in American history is highly caveated with a giant asterisk next to it. And I think that that’s one of the things that helps to keep me saying, and understanding, "Okay, this is where we are and this is what we have to do." And to not try to get into a massive panic because whatever happens is not going to be the last word. So I think that that’s one thing. "This is not going to be the end of the story." I mean, people are already finding ways to respond.
And secondly, I think one of the things that I do to take care of myself are that I try to do things that connects me to my humanity as much as possible. So I like to cook. I like to read. I was just upstate for a couple of days, it was amazing. What nature did for me for just two days was really important for me and also just getting grounded in conversations with my friends and doing what I can to stay connected to people who I care about and who care about me. Because that’s really the only thing that’s going to get us through this period we’re about to go through.
The thing that I say all the time is that there’s nothing about where we are that’s an accident, that this is just fulfilling a vision of the right wing and the Christian nationalist movement that they have dedicated themselves to since the 1980s. And so therefore, that means that if there is going to be a progressive vision that ultimately triumphs, that it needs the same kind of focus and dedication and that we have to be thinking on these big timelines. And the really hard work it is to move opinion in this country. I really am optimistic. I really do believe that we’re going to win. But I think that it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets a lot better. And I think we need to understand that where we are isn’t an accident.
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