June 30, 2022

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Ashton Santo

Talking About Reproductive Rights? Make Sure You Include Trans and Non-Binary People

MyWellbeing Therapist, Ashton Santo, LMSW discusses how to be more inclusive when discussing reproductive rights and how to amplify the voices of the underrepresented and excluded.

Talking About Reproductive Rights? Make Sure You Include Trans and Non-Binary People

The legal threats against reproductive healthcare are now more urgent than ever before. As we stand up and fight for reproductive rights, we must ensure that all affected people have a seat at the table—and that includes transgender and non-binary people.

What are reproductive rights?

The Center for Reproductive Rights and the United Nations Population Fund outline 12 key reproductive rights that states must “respect, protect, and fulfill.” These include the right to health, the right to decide the number and spacing of children, and the right to equality and non-discrimination.

Which reproductive rights are under attack?

In the United States, the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade (1973) established the right to terminate a pregnancy without criminal consequences. Almost fifty years later, state governments have significantly curtailed access to all reproductive services – not just abortion – by defunding necessary public health programs. 

Now, the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, allowing more than half of all U.S. states to enact abortion bans and setting the stage for further limitations on reproductive and other civil rights.

Feminist and human rights groups have rightfully mobilized to prevent this from happening. However, many folks still use “women’s rights” as a synonym for reproductive rights. This leaves out a significant number of affected people who aren’t women: namely, transgender men and non-binary individuals who can get pregnant.

But aren't reproductive rights a women's issue?

Not necessarily: reproductive rights apply to everyone, not just women. Cisgender women are the largest population affected by restrictions on reproductive rights, but other people are affected, too. 

Transgender men and non-binary people who can become pregnant are subject to the same if not greater difficulties in accessing reproductive services in the United States. Due to discrimination and exclusion, almost a third of all trans and non-binary people delay or avoid necessary healthcare, especially sexual and reproductive care. Gendering reproductive rights contributes to the erasure of people who can get pregnant and aren’t women. 

Calling reproductive rights a “women’s issue” also perpetuates the idea that only women should be responsible for planning pregnancy. It is everyone’s responsibility to take proactive measures to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Furthermore, anyone can (and should) advocate for reproductive rights, regardless of gender or ability to give birth; the movement needs all the allies it can get.

How can I be more inclusive when discussing reproductive rights?

Thoughtful language speaks volumes. Changing your wording may cause some temporary discomfort, but doing so acknowledges the reality that trans and non-binary people are affected by reproductive issues, too. 

Here are some pointers to help you make subtle yet important changes in the way you discuss reproductive rights:

Use descriptive language instead of gendered language

When talking about people in general, use specific and gender-neutral words that clarify your message. This does not mean that you can’t refer to yourself as a woman or use gendered language for women. It also doesn’t take away from the fact that the primary target of abortion bans and other laws are cisgender women. Using inclusive language simply acknowledges that not everyone who can get pregnant is a woman. 

Here are some keywords to use that are inclusive of all people who can get pregnant:
  • Woman; mother → person who can get pregnant, person with a uterus; birthing parent, pregnant person
  • Women’s rights; women’s issues → a person’s right to choose, abortion rights, reproductive rights; bodily autonomy, pregnancy planning
  • Women’s health → abortion access, family planning services, obstetrics and gynecology, pregnancy care, sexual and reproductive health

A great way to practice is to read aloud articles that use inclusive language – like this one! The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood have also published articles in support of reproductive rights that use inclusive language without invalidating the experiences of women who become pregnant or pursue abortions.

Learn and talk to others about reproductive and other civil rights for all people

Abortion access is not the only civil right under attack: legal access to contraception, same-gender marriage, and same-gender sexual relationships are also subject to the scrutiny of the Supreme Court. This is not to mention the other rights (and infringements thereof) that have yet to be addressed on a national level, such as the right to be free from forced sterilization and the right to gender-affirming healthcare.

In many U.S. states, transgender and non-binary people must undergo sex reassignment surgery in order to change their legal documents. While many people desire surgery, requiring specific surgeries that make them unable to have children infringes on the basic human right to be free from forced sterilization. Disabled and intersex people are also subject to forced sterilization and other irreversible operations on their reproductive organs, often before they are legally able to give consent.

The right to gender-affirming healthcare has also been subject to vicious political attacks. States like Alabama, Arkansas, and Texas have attempted to criminalize parents and doctors for supporting transgender children and adolescents. Anti-trans activists have sown fear, uncertainty, and doubt among the general public about the safety and efficacy of puberty blockers and hormone replacement, allowing politicians to make healthcare decisions instead of doctors and their patients.

These atrocious laws are inextricably linked to the attacks on abortion: they all deny the right of human beings to bodily integrity and self-determination. Including these issues in discussions about reproductive rights creates opportunities for solidarity and collaboration across movements towards mutual goals.

Amplify the voices of the underrepresented and excluded

While attacks on abortion access affect everyone who can get pregnant, some people are more vulnerable than others. Black, Latina, and Indigenous women, as well as impoverished and disabled women, face greater barriers to contraception and family planning services than white, wealthy, able-bodied, and able-minded women. Many Indigenous people have already suffered from a de facto abortion ban after the Hyde Amendment forbade the federal Indian Health Service from funding abortions. Trans and non-binary people must confront discrimination whether they want to bear children or not.

The intersectional effects of abortion bans and other attacks on reproductive rights must not be ignored

It is necessary to uplift the experiences of marginalized individuals as we fight to protect and expand access to reproductive services. The organizations listed below are dedicated to promoting reproductive rights from diverse perspectives; if you are looking to deepen your understanding of intersectionality and reproductive justice, take a look at their resources and share them with your networks. 

Thank you for doing your part in spreading awareness and engaging in advocacy for reproductive rights for all.

Helpful Resources:

Black Women Birthing Justice

Indigenous Women Rising

National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda

National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice

Project SHINE (Sexual Health Innovation Network for Equitable Education with Youth with Intellectual Disabilities) by Planned Parenthood of Greater New York

Sister Song: Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective

The National LGBTQ Task Force

Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity

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About the author

MyWellbeing Therapist, Ashton Santo, LMSW (he/him/his) is a queer, transmasculine social worker and harm reduction advocate. He supports his clients in making meaning of their life experiences and building resilience in stressful times. Ashton regards his transgender, non-binary, and gender-expansive clients with the utmost respect, with several years of professional and personal expertise serving the LGBTQIA+ community. He also comes to the table with a wealth of experience working with people who use drugs and formerly incarcerated individuals.

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