On September 1, 2021, Texas legislature passed S.B. 8, or better known as the “Fetal Heartbeat Bill.” Cries from abortion rights women activists were heard across the country. The National Women’s March plans to take to the streets for yet another march for the right to choose.
However, as a trans man who at any point in my life could still need to seek an abortion, I find myself left out of the conversation, pushed out by trans exclusionary radical feminists. I decided to talk with other trans people of many different identities for their take on the abortion law so we can get the full scope of how this challenge to Roe v. Wade is really affecting our diverse and radiant communities.
Gabriel (he/him) describes himself as “just your friendly neighborhood middle-aged bi/pan non-binary trans masc [trans masculine].” Gabriel lived in Texas for 13 years. He passionately answered my questions as he thought of his many friends, some of whom he’s helped access abortion care, and wonders what Texas is like for them right now.
“I wasn’t surprised when I heard about this bill, because during the years I lived in Texas, the state’s GOP was constantly trying to pass absolute nonsense. Things like bathroom bills, bills to try to push certain ideologies in school curricula and textbooks, voter suppression, lots of things. But the passage of these kinds of things is never inevitable, and there are always good people fighting hard down there, so I really hoped it wouldn’t pass. I still worried a lot about it, though, because I know that passing bills like this has been a GOP long game and they’re very determined.”
His friends haven’t been quiet since the news broke. Some of his friends, who he wasn’t aware of having had an abortion, shared their stories. Gabriel said, “I think it’s important to them to try to reduce abortion stigma, to try to make it clear that you can never make assumptions about the choices people around you have made, that there isn’t a certain stereotypical ‘type’ of person who has abortions.”
Emotions are running high for these people. They’re surrounded by neighbors, relatives, and coworkers that support the law and it’s frustrating.
“Many of them have mentioned feeling dehumanized by the law, and even infantilized because their ability to make decisions for themselves as an independent human being is being taken from them, and someone else is claiming to know what’s best for them,” Gabriel said.
I wanted to know how an abortion bill in Texas affects Mainers. I reached out to genderqueer Educator and Community Organizer Aspen Ruhlin (they/them) from the Mabel Wadsworth Center. Their clinic does client advocacy and community advocacy. Aspen specifically focuses on abortion, sexual health, the trans and queer community, and the intersection of the three.
I wanted to know what they thought about the abortion bill passing since they fought in this past legislative session multiple anti-abortion bills in Maine. One bill called to reverse the 2019 law which requires the Department of Health and Human Services to provide coverage to abortions not covered by MaineCare. Another would have required abortion providers to show ultrasounds to patients 48 hours before the procedure.
A third would have amended the abortion informed consent law to include telling pregnant women that they can reverse the effects of abortions by taking the hormone progesterone. However, a study of its efficacy was ended after three of the 12 participants experienced severe bleeding and were hospitalized.
“Like all anti-abortion laws, I was appalled but unfortunately not surprised when I heard about this bill,” Ruhlin said. “I believe that this year saw the highest number of anti-abortion bills put forward. I had of course hoped that SB8 would not be put into law, but given the current makeup of the SCOTUS and many other factors around abortion access in different states, I had worried it might. Other 6-week bans have been stopped prior to this because of the precedent of Roe, but that unfortunately can only hold so much weight when you have an institution like SCOTUS that is filled with people with their own agenda who have no accountability and a lifetime seat.”
It’s absolutely unsurprising how the votes played out. The law was passed with a five to four vote. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. dissented with the other three liberal Justices. Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, Trump nominees who Sen. Collins all voted to confirm, sided with the majority to let this anti-abortion law stand.
It’s important to note the use of “pregnant woman” in all of the proposed bills, always excluding non-binary folks and transgender men from the conversation around pregnancy and ultimately invalidating transgender women as women.
I spoke with Ell, an autistic, non-binary, trans feminine person who lived in Texas for two years before moving to Maine. They said, “It’s very frustrating, because when these same overreaches came for trans women, we did not receive this outpouring of care.”
In this past legislative session, there were 82 anti-trans bills across the U.S., most of which targeted transgender women and girls in sports. Here in Maine we also saw a bill that allowed discrimination against trans women seeking safety in women’s shelters.
Surprisingly, Maine saw an outpouring of support for trans people being attacked by these discriminatory bills. Quinn Gormley, director of MaineTransNet, said the opposition to the bills in public comment was something she hadn’t witnessed before.
“The incredible support we got stood out to us. I’ve never seen such a deep bench of support on a trans issue before this year,” Gormley told the Beacon.
Gabriel shared that anti-abortion laws are rooted in misogyny, “the target of legislation like this is women, and the majority of the people impacted are women. But god, it does really get exhausting to feel like people like me are left out of the discussion of so many issues.” Issues like breast cancer or menstrual product accessibility.
He explained that when asking for inclusive language and trans affirming reproductive healthcare, accusations of silencing women’s voices or misogyny is thrown around.
“As if the 33 years I lived as a woman in the world before even beginning to socially transition somehow ceased to exist when I came out as trans masc. When I’m talking about these topics, I try to use language like ‘people with uteruses,’ [or] ‘people who menstruate,’” Gabriel said.
When asked about abortion being a “women’s issue,” Ruhlin said, “Inclusive language is more accurate anyways, and helps to not obfuscate the issue at hand. So often, when people say things like ‘women’s health’ or ‘a woman’s choice,’ they’re also refusing to use the word ‘abortion,’ which only fuels stigma against it. It’s not ‘women’s health,’ it’s ‘reproductive healthcare,’ and in some cases, it’s much more specifically ‘abortion care.’”
Reproductive health care involves everyone, regardless of gender. “I have personally been prescribed birth control as a feminizing hormone in the past, and the restriction of birth control rights will invariably be used to target trans people,” Ell said.
A transgender woman I spoke with, Rose (she/her), shared her experience getting hormones from an abortion clinic, “There are pretty frequently anti-abortion picketers outside of [the clinic]. If abortion were banned and the clinic got shut down, it’d be all the more difficult for me to get access to hormones. So I think that just shows even though trans women don’t need abortions, it’s still, in a way, a common struggle we need to support, both because being pro-choice is important, but for our own sakes as well.”
It’s not just a matter of the access to abortion, it’s the autonomy of the individual to access proper care that is innate a human right.
“The fact of the matter is, people with a uterus deserve as much control over their uterus as they have over their blood, their plasma, their kidneys, their bone marrow, and how their organs will be handled after death,” Gabriel said.
Ruhlin believes language is incredibly important, “I swear, if I hear one more person say, ‘well I’m not pro abortion, I’m pro choice,’ I’m going to scream. I am pro abortion! I’m pro necessary healthcare! I’m pro abortion, pro thyroidectomy, pro home birth, pro cesarean, pro epidural, pro heart surgery. A lot of people who support abortion access inadvertently inject shame into their activism, and it’s something we need to work on. No more shame.”
I wanted to know how best to support people who may need to access an abortion or reproductive healthcare, especially during this time. Gabriel and Aspen Ruhlin were happy to share information.
Ruhlin said that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel to support people who need to access an abortion. “There is the Abortion Care Network which is a network of independent abortion clinics, there are abortion funds, whether state-specific or the National Network of Abortion Funds,” they said. If there are already supports in your area, tap into them and see where there are gaps before trying to build from the ground up. Plus, it’s never a bad thing to open your wallets to independent clinics who’s community work often goes unnoticed.
They continued, “Have a friend in Presque Isle who’s at 8 weeks and would prefer a medication abortion? They can get care with Maine Family Planning. Are they at 12 weeks and subsequently need an in-clinic procedure? Help them get a ride to and from Mabel Wadsworth Center in Bangor. Have a friend who lives somewhere very rural or otherwise struggles with access to a clinic? Connect them to resources (plancpills.org; abortionpillinfo.org) for self-managed abortion through misoprostol and mifepristone. Self-managed abortions are so much safer now than in the pre-Roe days.”
Gabriel mentioned that The Satanic Temple (TST) is suing for their reproductive rights to an abortion as a religious exemption in Texas and this wouldn’t be the first time. The TST is encouraging members in Texas who need an abortion to contact them for support. Membership is free and only takes a moment to sign up.
We also want to uplift the National Network for Abortion Funds for anyone who cannot afford to access an abortion. It’s time we shift the narrative on reproductive health and who has a say in our human rights. For all of us.