Men get abortions. This one talking point—which every trans guy and ally on my timeline dutifully reiterates, every single time abortion comes up—has, to date, comprised most of the conversation about the connection between trans rights and abortion rights. To the extent that trans reproductive health is mentioned at all, it is framed as a language debate, a matter of proper wording. Cis feminists think they’re doing a great job if they use gender-inclusive language like “pregnant people.” TERFs, most recently Hadley Freeman, blame the loss of abortion rights on the fact that those feminists “can’t even bring themselves to say the word ‘woman.’”
So, yes: trans men get abortions—as do transmasculine non-binary people, and other non-binary people and a whole lot of people who aren’t women. But just saying that isn’t enough. The likely overturn of Roe v. Wade in the United States has explicitly set the stage for a full-scale rollback on LGBTQ2S+ rights, while those of us classified under T are already facing unprecedented legislative attacks on our healthcare. Shallow, surface-level “inclusion” does nothing to address the interlocking threats we face at this point in time.
Transmasculine people are not an addendum to the abortion rights conversation. We’re not a little exception or a quirk that can be smoothed out with some new language. We’re right in the middle of it, having our reproductive, sexual and bodily sovereignty challenged on every front.
It might help to understand the legal framework that connects these fights. In the United States, much progress for LGBTQ2S+ and women’s rights has come through the Supreme Court. Roe v. Wade, which established the federal right to abortion, depended on an earlier case, Griswold v. Connecticut, which established the right for married couples to use birth control. Griswold was the case that established the “right to privacy,” the legal precedent that says what you do with your body, or in your bedroom, is your business.
As you can probably guess, this precedent was hugely important for LGBTQ2S+ cases. Griswold was the precedent upon which Obergefell v. Hodges (marriage equality) and Lawrence v. Texas (decriminalizing “sodomy”) were fought and won. A third major ruling—Bostock v. Clayton County, which forbids employment discrimination—is founded on a different precedent, but it, too, is newly vulnerable in light of Roe’s overturn.
The draft opinion overturning Roe, authored by Justice Samuel Alito, essentially argues that the right to privacy does not exist. Your body belongs to the state, and the state determines what you can do with it. Alito argues that because privacy is an “unenumerated right”—that is to say, implied by, but not listed by name in, the U.S. Constitution—and because it is not “deeply rooted in the nation’s history and tradition,” it should not be honoured.
As many legal writers and analysts have pointed out, the requirement for unenumerated rights to be “deeply rooted in the nation’s history” provides a pretext for the newly conservative Court to roll back not just reproductive rights, but any movement to advance the rights of marginalized peoples. The “history” and “tradition” of America depends, to a large extent, on the suppression of Black, brown, Indigenous, queer and female people; to the extent that any of us have been granted humanity under the law, it has been a recent development. In Alito’s interpretation, only if you would have been given full civil rights in September 1787, when the Constitution was signed, are you constitutionally guaranteed those same rights today.
Even if privacy is the only right we lose, that still leaves everything up for grabs: abortion, contraception, marriage equality, queer sex. Loving v. Virginia, which established the right to interracial marriage, relies on the right to privacy, and is cited in Alito’s opinion. Bostock, the ruling about employment discrimination, is the only ruling not directly in the path of the avalanche, and even so, this court is all but certain to grant a “religious liberty” exemption when someone inevitably argues that their faith requires them to discriminate against queer employees.
With this big picture in mind, you can begin to grasp how scary it is to be transmasculine right now. Many of us can get pregnant, only about 25 percent of us are heterosexual and, most obviously, we’re trans, and thus already subject to having our bodies and medical decisions policed. Every part of this backlash—against reproductive rights, against queer rights, against trans existence—winds up hitting us on some level.
What is more, bigotry aimed at transmasculine people often takes the form of an obsessive, invasive concern with our fertility and our supposed responsibility to give birth. The pain of being reduced to an incubator is equally real for everyone, and cis women are right to feel it. But when a book advocating conversion therapy for young trans men is titled Irreversible Damage—and that damage, as portrayed on the cover, consists of removing someone’s uterus—that is also a direct attack on reproductive choice. When doctors scare people away from transition by telling them (incorrectly) that testosterone causes infertility, or prescribe T without warning their patients that they can still get pregnant—that is reproductive coercion. When Idaho makes youth transition care a felony on the grounds that it will “sterilize kids” by inducing “transient or permanent infertility”—that is the state ruling that someone should have to get pregnant against their will.
Trans guys already struggle to get reproductive healthcare without being harassed or turned away by doctors. According to recent figures, almost half of all trans people have experienced abusive behaviour from medical providers, and 48 percent of trans men have avoided or delayed preventive healthcare like STI screenings or pelvic exams because they anticipate poor treatment. Abortion restrictions create another vector through which doctors can punish their patients for being trans. Consider the story of Daniel (not his real name), who lives in Colombia, a country where abortion was, at the time of his pregnancy, illegal with exceptions for rape and incest. Daniel was gang-raped—and thus, legally, allowed to abort—but he was turned down by his doctor, on the grounds that he was a “faggot” who “also pisses off the bad guys.”
Stories like Daniel’s are about to get a lot more common in the United States, and the freedoms that cis women will lose, post-Roe, are freedoms that trans people are already losing. Transmasculine people are seen, not as men, or male-adjacent, but as women who have abandoned our posts, and we are subject to extra violence in order to push us back into our mandated place as wives, helpmeets and breeders of (preferably white) babies. It makes sense that being subject to all these different pressures at once would give transmasculine people a certain unique insight—and it makes less than no sense that mainstream abortion discourse still largely excludes us.
This isn’t a “poor me” thing. “We need to centre men in this conversation” is probably the phrase I would use to alert my loved ones that I’d been kidnapped; we pretty much don’t ever need ladies to stand back and let the men do the talking, and we particularly don’t need it here. The overwhelming majority of people who need abortions—and, thus, the overwhelming number of people who will suffer and die when Roe is overturned—are cis women, and the burden will fall disproportionately on poor women and women of colour. Nor am I attempting to pull a Trans Men’s Rights manoeuvre by cutting trans women out of the conversation. Abortion is a basic issue of bodily autonomy, and, as such, it affects every trans and queer person alive.
Still, the phrase “men get abortions” is nowhere near adequate as a summary of the connection between trans and reproductive rights in the year 2022. “Men get abortions” does nothing to convey the fact that we live in a climate of increasing state control over all bodies that don’t belong to white, straight, cis men. Saying “pregnant people” instead of “pregnant women” is polite, but it does not reflect the unique reproductive injustices faced by trans people, nor is it a game plan for how we can address the simultaneous rollback of trans, queer and women’s rights.
We need that game plan. The worst is coming; for many of us, it’s here. Our survival depends on finding some way to work together—some lens through which we can see all our struggles as the same struggle. We may be fighting different battles, but we’re in the same war.
Correction: May 16, 2022 10:08 amThe original version of this story misidentified Lawrence v. Texas, the case that decriminalized sodomy.