Abortion, Transphobia and Racism in America

Abortion, Transphobia and Racism in America

Reactionary, regressive politics continue to dominate conservatism in the U.S. The State of Alabama signed into law a draconian ban on all abortion with no exemptions for rape or incest; Georgia outlawed abortion after a fetal heartbeat could be detected, roughly six weeks after conception, before most people know they’re pregnant; Ohio, Mississippi, and Kentucky all passed similar laws. Missouri’s only abortion clinic may be forced to close as the state’s health department refuses to renew Planned Parenthood’s annual license to provide abortion services.

This is alarming, though not surprising. Republican lawmakers, and the anti-choice lobby behind them, aspire to bring abortion legislation to the Supreme Court now that most of the justices are conservative. Since 2010, there have a spate of diverse state-level laws limiting access to abortion, and now they are hoping to strike down Roe v Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a constitutional right to access to abortion. It’s hackneyed at this point, but once again, we’re seeing that elections, both state level and presidential, have consequences. Furthermore, abortion is never solely about abortion, it’s also related to racial violence, diversity in leadership, trans and non-binary erasure, white supremacy, and class struggle. Let’s get into it.

Credit: Flickr
Abortion, Transphobia and Racism in the United States of America

First, the rhetoric around these recent laws has excluded people who don’t identify as women but still can become pregnant, thus deserving access to abortion. Trans men are specifically excluded from the dialogue around abortion rights, and this omission is more than just rhetoric, it’s about the respect and protection we give them. Language is a form of communication and of communicating value. This is an opportunity to become in the habit to use inclusive language. Start using inclusive, more accurate language like “people” or “folks” instead of women. As Laverne Cox said at a recent commencement speech at Pitzer College:

“When we use language that excludes groups of people on pertinent issues, it can jeopardize their health and well-being. Language that is appropriate and fully inclusive is a matter of life and death for so many people out there.” 

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Disallowing the option to terminate unwanted pregnancies is a way to reaffirm the supremacy of cis, rich, white men. Abortion is more than just healthcare, it represents the position women, trans men, non-binary people, and anyone in possession of a uterus hold in American culture. Being forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy means fewer women, trans people, and particularly women of color in the workplace. This relates in part to the pay gap – if you can have children, or have children, it’s assumed that it will negatively affect one’s work, from time off for childbirth, to less availability, to added stress of caring for a child. That leads to fewer opportunities, less pay, and fewer promotions. The study “Children and Gender Inequality: Evidence from Denmark” shows a steep drop in pay for women after the  birth of their first child, while men with children see no decline (the researchers just looked at cis men and  cis women). The gender pay gap is certainly based in discrimination, but also is a penalty against those who give birth. This doesn’t have to be the case, but heteronormative, patriarchal norms insist that femmes must be the primary caretakers of children. Guess what will happen to the pay gap as more people are forced to bear unwanted children?

At a pro-abortion rally in Washington DC. Credit American Life League via Flickr

Places of power, board rooms, political offices, law offices, media enterprises, and nonprofit boards, will be dominated by cis white men even more than they already are. With less diversity in these spaces, they will become increasingly hostile to those other than cis white men, with bro-like cultures, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and racism allowed to run rampantly. We will have less access to the systems that affect change, therefore these laws limiting abortion are a way of consolidating power further into the hands of the white, the cis male, the privileged. 

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Eliminating access to abortion is also deeply rooted in white supremacy. Before Roe v Wade, there were people who had access to safe and legal abortions provided by a doctor – rich white women who could travel abroad or to cities like NYC where abortion was legal. I’ve spoken to older women who say there were always whispers of others taking a trip to Europe and coming back miraculously not pregnant. Other privileged white women could convince doctors to provide the service secretly, especially if they had powerful contacts or could pay handsomely. Wealthy white women had options, those operating in the liminal space of culture, people of color, the poor, trans people, all had to resort to desperate measures that often lead to disastrous complications or death. Even if one were to successfully perform an abortion and there were complications, those who went to the emergency room were harassed by law enforcement demanding to know who performed the illegal procedure. 

The link between race and abortion access continues today. Race and class are inextricably intertwined, so travel to other states or countries is disproportionately inaccessible for people of color seeking abortion. Criminalizing abortion will also continue racist criminal justice trends; black folks seeking abortion will be targeted by police and more heavily sentenced than whites. Black and indigenous women also die in childbirth at a rate *three times* higher than that of white women according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (again, the study only included cis women). Doctors themselves are sometimes overtly racist, but the medical industry systematically under-serves black women, with delays in identifying symptoms or potential complications. That’s not to mention the cost of health insurance and health care even if you have insurance. 

White, middle class cis women need to confront that they will likely have options as abortion becomes less accessible or outright illegal in the U.S. again while other will not. It’s worth remembering that “women” do not act as a cohesive social group the way other groups, like the LGBTQ community do. To be considered a social group, there needs to be enough common experience and common identity to tie people together, and the experiences and lives of trans women, black women, white women, indigenous women, queer women, etc are incredibly diverse. Cis white women are the clear outlier among the spectrum of women’s experiences, because they’re more often privileged, wealthy, and experience the least prejudice. White cis women have a much more conservative worldview; most voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, and are more often moved to act based on their whiteness (I want my kids to go to a “good” school in a “good” neighborhood) than their womanhood (I need to vote against the person who is threatening the lives of these other women). If you have privilege, it’s your responsibility to use it. Being a cis white woman doesn’t make you a bad person, but being one who upholds white supremacy or transphobia or misogyny by your actions or lack of actions, you are. 

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Abortion rights in USA - Illustration by Greg Urchin
Credit: Greg Urchin via Flickr

Abortion is more than healthcare; it’s a way to consolidate power and push discriminated groups further into cycles of poverty and inaccessibility. If you want to help, please help the people most directly affected by these laws by supporting organizations that ease the burden of abortion access and those that provide legal challenges to these discriminatory laws.

These organizations directly help people who need assistance with barriers to abortion: 

  1. Yellowhammer fund – this organization provides funding for anyone seeking care at one of  Alabama’s three abortion clinics.
  2. Access Reproductive Care – Southeast -– This nonprofit specifically helps with access to abortion in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee. 
  3. Blue Ridge Abortion Fund – This organization helps those  in need of abortion care in Virginia. 
  4. Kentucky Health Justice Network – This group supports Kentuckians in need of reproductive and gender affirming healthcare
  5. Magnolia Fund – This group provides financial and practical support to those seeking an abortion in Georgia. 
  6. Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund – This nonprofit offers financial assistance and practical support to those seeking abortion or free emergency contraception. 
  7. Sister Reach -– Sister reach was formed to offer women and girls of color in Tennessee the human right of living within a reproductive justice framework, and has expanded to include men and boys, LGBTQ issues, and gender non-conforming people. 
  8. New Orleans Abortion Fund – This group provides compassionate and empowering assistance to patients seeking abortions. 
  9. Women Have Options — WHO is Ohio’s statewide abortion fund, providing financial assistance for those seeking abortion care. 

Finally, consider donating to the ACLU, NARAL, and their state-level chapters that are challenging these laws in court, monitor legislative activity, and lobby for access to reproductive healthcare. 

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