Abortion Is Not Just A Women’s Issue

I am a man. I have a uterus. No, I am not an oddity or an aberration – I’m simply transgender.

Back when the world thought I was a girl, I sat in a church for Black youths pressed shoulder to shoulder with other fellow Black teenagers listening to our pastor preach. I do not remember what exactly her sermon was about. I barely recall looking at the off-white ceiling or the walls covered in Christian coloring pages, anywhere that wasn’t down toward my chest. I do remember what she said that piqued my ears like a knife right into my skull–

“Ladies, God put you here to make beautiful Black babies.”

That sentence pounded in my head as dysphoria rampaged through my body. That sentence hammered in my ears when I skimmed through the leaked Supreme Court opinion draft in May, listened to newscasters on the TV and read articles covering the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June, and watched the fallout as state legislatures banned or severely limited abortion access throughout July. I felt physically ill. I felt endangered.

I am a man. I have a uterus. No, I am not an oddity or an aberration – I’m simply transgender.

Not everyone who was assigned female at birth is a woman. Like me, there are many other transmasculine and nonbinary folks who have lost the protections to their bodily autonomy due to the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Like me, trans people of color face the highest risk of legal repercussions by abortion restrictions motivated by white supremacy. Yet they are excluded and neglected by the activism that has swelled up following the court decision.

We are neglected in the cissexist rhetoric shouting, “protect women’s rights”, “men get off our bodies”, “women are more regulated than guns”, “if men could get pregnant, abortion would be free & legal”, and “abortion is a women’s issue.”

Abortion is not just a women’s issue.

When transmasculine folks demand our inclusion in reproductive justice, we are told to shut up because we are men and assumed to be cisgender – “no uterus, no opinion.” If we’re acknowledged as transgender, we’re told that abortion is a women’s issue, not a trans issue. We’re told to focus on the threats to marriage equality because that’s a queer issue, as if there hasn’t been 300+ anti-trans bills surging through this country, including this very state. Republicans are not shy in connecting their anti-choice rhetoric with their transphobic legislation. Queer folks are not next – we’re already targeted.

Abortion is a queer issue. Not only do queer people have abortions, but the right to abortion is connected to the right to bodily autonomy, the right to reproductive justice, and the right to privacy, which all undergird queer issues.

On one hand, the mainstream pro-choice movement is composed of cis women themselves. I do not fault them for fighting against the misogyny they personally face. Unfortunately, their progressivism is short-sighted as they don’t account for trans and gender-nonconforming people who face such sexism as well. On the other hand, there are TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) who outright claim that they are including trans men and nonbinary people in their politics. What they mean is deliberately misgendering us as “women” and “girls” and tell us to suck it up.

I am not a girl. I am not a woman. I am a man. Men can get pregnant. Men get abortions.

Mainstream pro-choice rhetoric is cisnormative, utilizing the bioessentialist framework of cis men vs. cis women. It fails to mention the many conservative women on the pro-life side working to uphold the patriarchy as well as other discriminatory systems. It does a disservice to the many men who are fighting for reproductive justice alongside us. It neglects the existence of nonbinary people. It excludes and can vilify the men and nonbinary folks who, victimized in this transphobic political climate, desperately need the backing of activists.

Some insist that since transgender people compose a minority who need abortion services, they should not shape the movement. This is a detestable argument. Just because trans people compose a statistical minority does not mean that they should be dismissed. Our needs are not a footnote. If anything, it is why we should be on the frontlines. Our existence should not go unaddressed. Erasure is deadly.

Transmasculine and nonbinary patients already struggle to access medical care deemed “women’s health.” If we can understand how stigmatizing language around disease can prevent those from seeking treatment, then we should be able to understand how gendered language can prevent people from accessing the care they need. Insurance won’t cover “gender-specific” gynecological care for trans men if they’ve had their legal sex changed to male, such as contraceptives. OB/GYNs will either turn away trans people or misgender them throughout their entire appointment. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that 13% of transmascs avoid routine sexual and reproductive health screenings that could be critical to their health for fear of transphobia.

By deeming abortion “women’s healthcare,” another barrier stands to prevent us from accessing the critical care we need. Since one cannot continue HRT while pregnant, pregnant transmascs essentially have to detransition for the health of the baby. They’ll be forced to attain “maternal” health services. Given that transmasculine people face the highest rates of sexual assault in the queer community – even higher among transmasculine people of color – I fear pregnancy will be weaponized against us. Republicans already promote legislation banning gender-affirming healthcare under the pretense of “protecting girls’ fertility.”

The thought of getting pregnant absolutely disturbs me, riling up my dysphoria. I’m currently not on HRT – still, testosterone is not a contraceptive. I would seek an abortion if misfortunes aligned. Yet I could be turned away because I look masculine and assumed to be a cis man, or my ID says M, or the clinic only serves women. If I do find a clinic that’ll take me, they could misgender me the whole time or I’ll be mishandled by doctors not competent in trans care, making the experience more stressful than it needs to be. As a trans man of color, I could face violence if I advocate for myself.

To remove that stigma and fear, to truly attain reproductive freedoms for all, the pro-choice movement should utilize gender-inclusive language.

Inclusive language is gender-neutral. Transgender and gender-nonconforming capable of becoming pregnant, alienated by the woman-aligned lexicon in popular use, are seen and made comfortable when seeking abortion and birth control. As a bonus, it decouples pregnancy from womanhood, freeing women from the pressure to become mothers as well as femme-adjacent people who cannot become pregnant.  

Instead of women and girls, speak for people who can get pregnant and pregnant people.

An example of pro-choice inclusive language is found in the Women’s Health Protection Act. Despite the name, the bill intends to “protect all people with the capacity for pregnancy—cisgender women, transgender men, non-binary individuals, those who identify with a different gender, and others.”

I wish the bill would go by a title that didn’t appeal to cisnormative sympathies, but it would be one that I’d support were it to go through Congress. Half of all states so far have severely restricted or outright criminalized abortion. Since the Supreme Court is not on our side, we need federal protections for abortion that cover everyone. Isn’t that the goal of the pro-choice movement? For everybody to have a choice.

Gender-inclusive language is useful beyond the fight for reproductive autonomy. It opens support during prenatal and post-partum medical care, can open resources access to gay and masc-aligned domestic violence victims, dismantles gender roles, and embraces gender diversity. Gendered generalizations exclude and hurt those in invisibility.

Nobody should be left out of this fight. The easiest way to ensure they’re visible is to speak of them or let them speak. At least I won’t be quiet.

Alasdair (he/him) is the digital editor of QBurgh. He is a recent graduate of Chatham University with a BFA and a MA in Creative Writing. He grew up around Pittsburgh and now wishes to become involved with the local LGBTQ+ community. Through his writing, he hopes to represent and advocate for queer people like himself.