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One year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
This decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturned Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) — and concluded that the Constitution does not protect the right to an abortion. It also further deteriorated the privacy of patients seeking medical care, as some states were empowered to investigate if an abortion or abortion-aid is suspected.
The impact was swift and clear. At least 14 states ceased almost all abortion services within the first six months. In nearly half of the country’s states, providers and those seeking abortions can face significant prison time. Even the United Nations (UN) called out the situation for putting “millions of women and girls at serious risk.”
But, if you care about Dobbs, you should care about trans rights. Both of which are a fight for agency amongst marginalized genders. The Dobbs ruling came down as a record-breaking number of pieces of anti-trans legislation — and proposals for them — were passed. In 2022, this included barriers for gender affirming care, participating in sports, claiming birth certificates, and the now-infamous “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” law in Florida. A year before that (in 2021), there was also a record-breaking number of anti-trans bills. And, before that, 2020 was the record-breaking year. See a pattern here?
But despite the previous records, we have seen a significant escalation in the amount of legislation attacking queer and trans communities so far in 2023. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is now tracking nearly 500 bills that were introduced, defeated or are now making their way through state legislatures. (The Trans Legislation Tracker had a different number, noting that there were 558 anti-trans bills in 2023 in 49 states, including 83 that passed, 112 that failed, and another 363 that are still active.) We’re only halfway through 2023 and more than 75 anti-LGBT laws have passed in at least 21 states. Another 209 bills are in process, according to the ACLU. Similar to the situation post-Dobbs, nearly 20 states in this country have now restricted gender affirming care and often take the route of criminalizing doctors and professionals who help. This is an erosion of privacy where authorities could seek out potentially queer and trans people in their schools, leisure activities, and homes. That includes, but isn’t limited to “forced outing” bills and inappropriately involving child welfare services (as seen in Texas).
Both examples of anti-abortion and anti-LGBT legislation place the ideology of politicians over the recommendations of trained professionals and, most of all, those of us who live in the bodies we have. Body autonomy is a basic human right. Choosing the care one needs is an act of dignity.
Consequently, the Human Rights Campaign has released its first ever national warning for LGBTQ+ U.S. residents as a result of this assault on fundamental human rights.
Well before Dobbs, transgender activists have been warning that when you come for our body autonomy, everyone is at risk for losing their agency — especially other marginalized genders. Yet, our community and issues often go ignored by mainstream outlets. For example, Media Matters for America found that cable and broadcast television networks only covered anti-trans violence for a total of just over six hours in the same year Roe v. Wade was overturned.
Cisgendered allies must learn from the trans community when it comes to body autonomy. That especially means seeking out our words, stories and leadership when mainstream media won’t — or worse, when mainstream media portrays us and trans issues in a negative light. We are the people right-wing politicians have been practicing their restrictive legislation on. One year after Dobbs, trans people continue to bear the brunt of what could come next for everyone else. It is as important as ever to build solidarity networks amongst marginalized genders.
One important form this needs to take is honoring the particular risk trans masculine and assigned female at birth non-binary people face when it comes to abortion and reproductive health services. This has been the case long before Dobbs. For example, five years before the landmark case, 29% of transgender people said a provider had refused to see them that year due to their identity. Another 23% experienced being intentionally called the wrong name or pronoun that they requested from their provider.
The experience of abortion that’s already increasingly controversial and dangerous in the United States carries so many additional layers for transgender and gender non-conforming people. Even the most notable human rights bodies — like the UN that I mentioned above — neglect the nuances and needs of our community with language such as “women and girls.” This puts those who identify as and those who present as otherwise into several predicaments. Here are some questions one may have to face as a trans person who might get pregnant or seek an abortion:
Will I be turned away because transgender medical care is up for debate? Will I have to lie about my identity to receive care? Will I only be given an abortion because the provider believes transness makes me an “unfit” parent? Will being pregnant make me “less of a man”? Will being pregnant by assault make me “less of a man”? Will a pregnancy result in changing my body’s shape and trigger additional dysphoria or suicidality? Am I “taking away” from women and being misogynistic just by simply speaking about my experience? Will someone try to sterilize me in the process of getting an abortion? Will the physician assault me because I already am in a vulnerable position? Is there anyone safe to tell?
This reality not only heightens the risk of dying, but also can raise barriers for trans people to imagine possibilities for family planning at all. In both cases, these are shades of genocide.
We can also learn a lot about body autonomy from disability activists. Like trans people and people who seek abortions, people with disabilities are inherently framed as broken and irresponsible. This plays well into the long U.S. history of stripping rights and punishing those “unfit” for a “productive” society. This dynamic lends itself to the perpetual discrimination of anybody who isn’t interpreted as an able-bodied, heterosexual, cisgendered man. It’s the idea that the rest of us can’t think for ourselves. And, when we do, we are a danger to ourselves and to the lives of others.
The concept of pro-choice should not only apply to cisgendered women or able-bodied people, and the concept of pro-choice should not only be considered in the conversation about abortion. People of all marginalized genders and bodies make choices — whether it be related to gender-affirming care or reproductive care — to include ourselves in our own futures.
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Lexie Bean (they/he) is a trans artist on the RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) National Leadership Council. They are the author of The Ship We Built, editor of Written on the Body, and co-director of What Will I Become, an upcoming feature documentary.