A Perfect Example of the Necessity of Inclusive Language in Reproductive Rights Activism

A couple of weeks ago, Ophelia Benson hounded an abortion doctor into blocking her because she insisted that using the term “pregnant people” somehow erased women. In the process, Ophelia gleefully erased non binary AFAB folk and trans men. When called on her bullshit, she tried to invoke Black Lives Matter, which went about as well as you would expect.

I doubt Ophelia is reachable, but some of the folks on the fence or not too far into this ridiculous camp may be, and for them, I wish to bring their attention to the following, which illustrates exactly why we include AFAB trans people when we fight for reproductive rights. Content note for rape and anti-trans violence.

I’m a man. And I had an abortion when I was 27.

I’m trans, and I was sexually assaulted by a group of armed men who apparently could see past two years of testosterone treatment and wanted to “prove” that I was “really” a woman. It happened in broad daylight in a park. There were people within earshot, and no one did anything. Among the many other issues that arose out of the assault, I got pregnant.

I never thought I would have to worry about that. After all, I’d been on testosterone for two years and I felt sure that my whole reproductive system had been suppressed by the male hormones. But, hey, apparently that wasn’t the case. It doesn’t really make sense to me even now; by all scientific rights, I should not have been able to conceive. Nonetheless, there I was, a man finding out that he was pregnant.

Getting that abortion probably saved my life.

It’s understandable that transmen can be left out of the conversation around abortion, though I think it’s unfortunate. I know I’m not the only transman to experience and unwanted pregnancy. At the same time, though, I don’t feel like I can go to Twitter and shout my abortion. I don’t want to seem like I’m pulling a what-about-the-men. And yet it’s difficult to see trans people so frequently left out of discussions about reproduction. [emphasis added]

Read that bolded part again, and then tell me what is fair and just about leaving out a marginalized voice just so cis women can have the abortion rights fight be all about them. Tell me why we have to further hurt already hurt people. Tell me how that benefits me. Because I don’t see it.

I’m a cis woman of reproductive age with a (theoretically) functioning reproductive system. I don’t want children, ever. I’m terrified to ever move from Seattle because if I get pregnant, I don’t ever want to be in a place where an abortion is difficult to obtain. I care passionately about a pregnant person’s right to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to term. So passionately, in fact, that I’m now something of an extremist – while other people are good with placing limitations on a person’s ability to get an abortion, such as fetal viability or other arbitrary cut-offs, I’m of the opinion that abortion is a person’s right up to birth. (Not that it’s likely a person would carry a fetus nearly to term and then decide they want an abortion at the last ditch, but hey, it could happen maybe once in a generation or so.) Point is, I don’t want to see abortion restricted. I want it to be safe, legal, and done as often as necessary. I don’t care how frivolous the reasons may be. I don’t believe human life starts at conception, heartbeat, or even viability. I believe it starts after birth, and before that, the fetus should have absolutely no legal right to a person’s body. And I wouldn’t be quite this extreme, only there are extremists out there trying to remove our ability to prevent pregnancy altogether, nevermind prevent us from having that unwanted pregnancy removed if we choose.

So I have skin in the game. I’m a cis woman with a uterus that could one day play host to an unwanted passenger. And it in no way erases me to pull my trans and non-binary AFAB fellow travelers into the same boat. I don’t have to give up my seat in order to make room for them. There’s plenty of room. And I understand that fighting for fertile cis women’s rights alone isn’t going to help them, because while we may win the battle for abortion rights, if we haven’t had them with us all along, we’ll have another battle to fight in ensuring that reproductive rights encompass them as well. They face challenges to accessing reproductive care that I don’t. If we can clear those challenges to their care away at the same time we’re ensuring cis women’s access, then that’s absolutely what we should do.

And it’s not like taking their item aboard is going to sink the whole boat. It’s not like the vast majority of people in this country who are against abortion will suddenly be more against it if they see a few trans people fighting for those rights, too. It’s not like those opponents are going to see the term “pregnant people” and suddenly forget all about the many cis women who are pregnant or capable of becoming so. I have a sneaking suspicion I could parade a thousand visibly-pregnant trans men through their living rooms, and they’d still think I was the only one in the room who’d ever be needing the number to the local abortionplex. When their whole focus is on controlling cis women’s fertility, they’re not going to have eyes for a trans man anyway. There’s no chance of erasure here.

And allies are never going to forget that the set of pregnant people includes cis women. So what the actual fuck is the problem?

Go read the whole of that anonymous trans man’s story. And if you’re still not willing to include all pregnant people in your supposedly feminist fight for reproductive rights, I hope shame stabs you through the heart one day very soon.

Image shows a transgender flag flying, rippled in the breeze. Above, in dark blue, is a quote by Flavia Dzodan: "My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit."
Flag image by torbakhopper (CC BY 2.0). Quote added by me.
A Perfect Example of the Necessity of Inclusive Language in Reproductive Rights Activism

16 thoughts on “A Perfect Example of the Necessity of Inclusive Language in Reproductive Rights Activism

  1. 2

    So what the actual fuck is the problem?

    1) “Men” have cooties.

    2) “I” think “I” can gatekeep someone else’s identity.

    3) Trans people are the gender “I” think they are and not what they tell “me” about themselves. See #2

    4) “I” think trans men are women.

    5) “I” don’t need to specify trans men or NB AFABs, because they’re women, so it would be redundant to say “pregnant women, trans men, and non-binary AFABs” when speaking about legislation of AFAB reproductive organs.

    That’s what I can piece together from TERF/transphobic logic. So, to answer the question, “what is the problem?” I refer you to #2, where a person thinks they have the authority to override someone else’s self determination. Real nice, that is. The rest would crumble in the absence of #2. Wonder how TERFs would feel if we drew analogies between male doctors condemning abortion and transphobes deciding someone isn’t what they say they are.


    *screams into pillow*

  2. rq

    But really, what even is identity? And how does one determine one’s own identity if their identity to everyone else is a different identity? Hmmmmmmmmmm? WHICH ONE IS THE REAL IDENTITY? THIS IS SO HARD TO FIGURE OUT!

  3. 4

    I think saying “pregnant person” is a good compromise. My question is what issues are most important to people who are transgender. I realize it is not a uniform group that all want the same thing. How important is language and terms compared to other issues. I don’t expect an answer to these questions but would like to know about a website that can answer these questions.

  4. 5

    For me personally, it’s getting medical coverage for transition-related expenses. But I’m a white upper-middleclass woman of reasonable means. I mean, I HAVE medical coverage, it’s just has an exception. And I CAN afford what I need, but it’ll drain my retirement savings… so it’s a financial family issue rather than life or death.

    For a guy who got pregnant by rape? I bet medical coverage isn’t his top concern, abortion access probably is up there.

    For a woman of color kicked out of her home and isolated, access to hormones and a safe roof over her head is probably tops.

    We’re all different. It’s all important.

  5. AMM

    “pregnant person” is not even a compromise. It’s precise and precisely accurate.
    After all, cis women who can’t get pregnant (e.g., who’ve had a hysterectomy) don’t need access to abortions.

    Of course, the anti-abortion campaign is actually a stalking horse for a larger campaign promoting a collection of nasty misogynistic policies which do affect women who can’t get pregnant, so in that sense, they also have a stake in keeping abortion legal and accessible. As do men (however defined) who want the women in their lives to be treated as more than simply domestic animals.

  6. 7

    What frustrates me about watching this conversation is that I feel like everyone is talking past each other. I think the second-wave style analysis that people who are perceived as capable of becoming pregnant are oppressed as a class is an important one. It’s about more than just the fact that “the set of pregnant people includes cis women” or the right to access reproductive health care. Think about an employer who discriminates against a thirty year old woman because he assumes she’ll drop out of the workforce to have a kid in the next few years. It doesn’t matter whether that woman actually intends to get pregnant or even can become pregnant, she still has experienced a class-based oppression that needs to be named.

    At the same time, there are common needs and experiences of pregnant people. People need adequate access to contraception, prenatal care and abortion regardless of their gender identity. So Ophelia Benson’s critique makes zero sense in the context of discussing the actual medical experience of pregnancy. Using a class-based analysis to invalidate individual’s identity is a TERF move.

  7. 8

    The problem being of course that TERFs condider a trans man to be a women, just as they consider a trans women to be a man. so a pregnant trans man would still be a women, and therefore “pregnant people” is an erasure of womenhood. Or something.

  8. 9

    I read the post this morning and was reminded of how I thought “I bet many men and non-binary people who need abortion need them because of rape”when this first blew up*.
    How can anybody be so fucking cruel and exclude people who have, after all, been victims of cis male violence?

    *Of course not all of them are, but I bet my sewing machine that their percentage among those needing abortions is way higher than that of cis women, especially straight cis women because “corrective rape” is a fucking thing.

  9. 11


    So passionately, in fact, that I’m now something of an extremist – while other people are good with placing limitations on a person’s ability to get an abortion, such as fetal viability or other arbitrary cut-offs, I’m of the opinion that abortion is a person’s right up to birth.

    As I said on FB, this is a position I agree with as well. When I began to learn about abortion and reproductive rights for women and AFAB individuals, one of the things I noticed was the 20-week cutoff for abortions. My thinking at the time was that this was an arbitrary cutoff. Why 20 weeks? Why not 12 weeks or 16?

    Now, I realize that 20 weeks is considered the earliest point of viability, but if my support of abortion rights is based on the idea that the pregnant person should have full bodily autonomy at all times-and that is indeed the foundation of my support for abortion rights-then that necessarily covers the entire length of a pregnancy.

    I know that most pregnancies that are terminated after 20 weeks* are wanted ones-ones where the pregnant individual wanted the child, but for reasons of health (theirs or the fetus), an abortion was the wisest choice for them. Now, at the time, I could have said “Ok, I’m all for abortion up to 20 weeks, and after that, I only support abortion if its for the life of the pregnant person or if there are serious problems related to the health of the fetus”, but that position is not one that is congruent with the position that I believe all pregnant persons should have full bodily autonomy at all times. That position is one that says there are some times when pregnant persons do not have full bodily autonomy. Further, that position is one that says at a certain point, the fetus within the body of the pregnant individual has more rights than the pregnant person, including the right to override the pregnant individuals’ basic human rights. I decided that I didn’t want to add caveats to my support for abortion rights.

    Thus- I support full abortion rights for any person who can get pregnant. No exclusions. No caveats.
    So I guess that makes me an extremist too.

    ::Pulls up chair behind other extremists and sits quietly in full solidarity::

    Also, thanks for bringing the linked story to my attention Dana. I see no reason to exclude AFAB trans people from the discussion of abortion rights. Ophelia can continue to fuck right off with her unrepentant, callous bigotry.

    *Additionally, I daresay that the overwhelming majority of pregnant persons who carry a fetus that far along do not decide 2 days before giving birth that they want an abortion.

  10. 13

    “pregnant people” somehow erased women

    And saying that persons who are pregnant can’t be referred to as “people” doesn’t erase that status?

    Why the fuck is this even an issue?

  11. 14

    Actually the earliest point of viability is 24 weeks and even then it might be too earlier. The main problem is that the lungs haven’t developed enough before 24 weeks for t he baby to breathe outside of the womb. I think a person can still get an abortion before 26 weeks

  12. 15

    Thank you for answering my questions. Sometimes there is so many people arguing that I think it is so important to check in with people who are affected by these arguments

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