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When the Supreme Court refused to block the Texas Fetal Heartbeat Act in late August, the court signed off on the strictest limitations on abortion since Roe v. Wade (1973). Banning the procedure after six weeks, the Texas law’s most insidious provision permitted the court to undermine the rights conveyed in Roe without challenging what many conservatives even concede is “settled law.”
Prohibiting state action to enforce the new regulations, the legislation instead empowered citizens to sue abortion providers or anyone assisting a person in obtaining the procedure. Anti-choice lobbyists have now invited the general public to offer tips on those who may have violated the law—permitting a particular type of vigilantism against people who receive abortions and those who help.
But that’s not all. The law defines pregnancy as “female reproductive condition,” and the custodian of the “unborn child” as a “woman.” Opponents of the law also presume that the legislation is part of a general “war on women.” Yet pregnancy, and the reproductive health care often associated with “women,” are not conditions confined to a single gender.
Yes, men who were sexed female at birth get pregnant too. And it’s important for both sides to acknowledge that the failure to accept this has broad ramifications for reproductive health more generally.
Ultimately, the exclusion of trans folx from the narrative begins with the anti-choice movement.
It’s not surprising that the Texas legislators who wrote the bill were the same bunch that recently passed legislation forcing trans athletes to compete in the gender category they were assigned at birth. The conservative anti-choice movement also rejects non-binary and trans identities, and sees womanhood as equivalent to having organs that permit pregnancy: a uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and a vagina. But since many men decided to retain some (or all) of these biological parts—for pleasure, health, and because of the high cost of surgeries—men get pregnant too. The pro-choice movement needs to acknowledge this, because it could easily permit trans men to be legally excluded, not just from abortion, but from the regular health care they need.
Yet it’s an old habit for some in the pro-choice movement to see the primary outcome of this legislation as the enhanced policing and control of women’s bodies: attacks on Roe have galvanized fundraising and voter turnout for almost 50 years. Too often, pro-choice rhetoric affirms that anti-abortion is a “war on women” when, in fact, there is a larger category of potentially pregnant people who are far more affected by it than some women. This language, and the realities behind it, are hard for even some progressives to learn. Although Elizabeth Warren’s website uses the phrase “pregnant people,” she has built a big part of her career promoting the interests of “women” and “girls,” and she can slip into that language when discussing abortion. On a recent MSNBC interview, Warren said, “rich women still get abortions.”
This is correct, of course: the wealthy have historically maintained access to reproductive care despite legal restrictions, while the poor do not. Like the rest of her caucus, immediately after the Texas statute was implemented, Warren called for the immediate passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act.
But she might have taken the opportunity to acknowledge that women are not the only ones to receive abortions. While the full title of the bill acknowledges it protects a person’s ability to continue or end a pregnancy, calling it the Women’s Health Protection Act seems to limit its protection to gender, and by inference, all gynecological health care to “women.” This is not only abortion and childbirth, but routine preventive screenings for breast, cervical, uterine and ovarian cancers.
Even if the anti-choice movement does intend to instigate a “war on women” (and many women in that movement would forcefully reject that idea), the repercussions of policing an individual’s right over their uterus automatically extends the struggle to transmasculine bodies as well as cis-gendered women. Refusing a gender-inclusive fight for reproductive health by simply eliminating men from the equation doesn’t just erase trans identity: it potentially guts trans healthcare.
Thus the pro-choice movement has an obligation to decenter cis-women, deploying gender-inclusive language and policies. First and foremost, this means acknowledging that reproductive health is a broad mandate. (Indeed, Planned Parenthood is one of the largest providers of cis- and trans-male reproductive health.) Without this inclusive notion, the pro-choice movement fails to acknowledge the existence, not just of trans bodies, but of initiatives that support the health of these bodies.
As attacks on reproductive health have escalated, trans folx and trans non-binary folx have spoken out against a rhetoric of abortion access that fails to address their needs. In 2019, Munroe Bergdorf, a model and trans activist, put the movement on notice: “Sending love to any trans men and non-binary people triggered by the lack of acknowledgement that they may also need access to abortions,” the transfeminine activist, model, and influencer wrote. “This is absolutely about the policing of women’s bodies, but it doesn’t stop there.”
The Texas law may have the unexpected benefit of advancing this conversation. Trans men and non-binary folx sometimes have uteruses. They get pregnant, are in need of reproductive health care, and require access to safe abortions—and safe prenatal care. The discussion cannot exclude the trans identity. Most important, expanding abortion access may be expanding our ideas about gender, allowing us to see what a true notion of bodily autonomy—and universal health care—looks like.
Kathryn Gruszecki attended American University for her master’s degree in Ethics and Global Affairs and The New School for Social Research for her master’s degree in Philosophy. She was previously the editor of the Women in Philosophy Journal and is currently an independent scholar, writer, and artist.