Generally, if you were to ask the question, "Who receives abortions?" there is one common answer: women.
And it makes sense. Cisgender women are the largest proportion of individuals who receive abortions. Abortions among women who can become pregnant are extremely common — nearly one in four women will have an abortion in their lifetime, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
But there is a more accurate answer to this question.
Many people, including cisgender women, non-binary people, intersex people and transgender men can and will receive abortions. This is why it is so important to include these individuals in discussions surrounding abortion. This can be easily done by replacing the term “pregnant women” with “pregnant people.” Making these simple changes to our rhetoric can help make the conversation more inclusive.
“We are using language that accurately reflects people,” Alice McCracken Knight, a genderqueer junior at UNC, said. “Nonbinary people exist, genderqueer people exist, trans-masculine people exist and there are some men who were assigned female at birth. They still have the capacity to be pregnant and might be in a situation where they might need an abortion. Gender inclusive language for them is an acknowledgment that this is a human rights issue.”
Using gender-inclusive language in discussions of abortion does not diminish the experiences and oppression of cisgender women — they go hand in hand.
Women’s rights are gender rights and vice versa, explains Meleena Gil, a college graduate now working towards their doctoral degree in English and Comparative Literature at UNC.
“Feminist standpoint theory is about understanding that those who experience accumulations of oppression are able to better identify and interrogate systems of power," they explained. “We can, as we have historically, understand and deconstruct harmful ideologies when we listen to the communities most immediately impacted by them... Using gender-inclusive language does not decenter women as a category, it decenters the sexist regimes that have constructed gender-based inequalities and invites new experiences into the fold.”
The fight for abortion rights, LGBTQ+ rights and gender rights go hand in hand because they all advocate for the protection of bodily autonomy. They are also one and the same because lesbians, bisexuals, trans people, queer people and trans men can experience pregnancy and deserve control over if, when and how they become pregnant, and whether or not they stay pregnant.
“I think that using gender-inclusive language is a step that is easy,” Izze Steinke, a junior at UNC, said. “It's so easy to just use a different word, to make sure that someone else is feeling safe and secure and can get the care that they need.”
With that in mind, it is important that we acknowledge that the institutions involved in anti-abortion legislation are the same ones implementing anti-trans legislation. It is no coincidence that we have seen increases in both anti-abortion and anti-trans bills within the past few years, both of which concern patient autonomy and decision-making.
According to the ACLU, over 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in state legislatures so far this year, with 20 new anti-trans bills becoming law since 2019. On top of this, 38 out of 541 proposed bills aiming to increase abortion restrictions have become law in 2022.
The bills may threaten access to essential and life-saving healthcare — healthcare that, for people seeking abortions or trans-affirming care, is often expensive and not covered by health insurance.
Simultaneously, there has been an increase in visibility for members of the transgender and non-binary communities — leading to a higher demand for equitable and knowledgeable healthcare, according to a blog by Planned Parenthood.
“Trans and non-binary people are often put in the position of educating healthcare providers on a regular basis— not only about gender-affirming care but through almost every medical encounter,” Gil said. “Forced birthing places people in the uncomfortable and potentially dysphoria-inducing position of facing the excluding language of 'motherhood' in often already excluding spaces built for and around cis women.”
These key principles of reproductive justice and self-determination have prompted health care providers to reform their services to be more inclusive, according to the blog. This includes traditional family planning services, as well as their core services as health care providers.
Introducing gender-inclusive language and mindsets into abortion discussions is a crucial step to take to make these conversations a safe place for all bodies.
“The language that we use is important because it is naming individuals in this struggle for human rights," says Knight. "Being able to, for ourselves, name the struggles that we are a part of is important in building our own community up."
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