Monday, April 25, 2011

You deserve high-quality abortion care regardless of your gender (Or..."Man in the clinic" Pt. 2!)

I'm a bit behind in sharing this, so you may have read about it at other blogs already -- which is great. But just in case you didn't, here's a thing to mull over. At the CLPP conference two weeks ago, Jos Truitt mentioned at one panel (on feminism and trans people and, eventually, reproductive justice) that it's important to recognize that it's not only women who have abortions. This spurred Lori at Feministing to write "Why I won't be talking about abortion as a women's issue anymore." You should go read it all, but it boils down to this:
Trans men have abortions. Gender-queer people have abortions. Two-spirit people have abortions. People who do not fit into the box of 'woman' have abortions. This is the reality we live in, and the more we pretend otherwise, the more dangerous it is for other people.
I'd add to this that, also, lesbian women have abortions. (I know sexual orientation wasn't the focus of Jos's remarks or the panel's subject, and don't mean to dilute those remarks, only to point out that our language can be erasing in multiple ways at once.)

I'm happy that my abortion clinic, which also offers reproductive wellness care, realized it has the capability to provide this care for transgender men and for women who have sex with women just as well as we do straight, cisgender women [cis is the opposite of trans], and has spent time training and seeking staff who feel the same way. (Extending our services for trans women, however, is unfortunately taking time.) So it's not that I'm unaware. But, it's true, when I talk about the social realities of abortion I find I'm almost always saying "women," and talking about experiences common to many straight cis women, which erases other women as well as men and people who identify as neither. Just because cis women compose the majority of our patients doesn't mean we can ignore the existence of others. I've noticed that the New York Abortion Doula Project is very consistent about referring to "pregnant people," which is highly accurate and perfectly inclusive, but they're about the only group who do this.

When we talk about how people who oppose abortion are underestimating women or being callous to women's realities, well, yes, they ARE doing that to women. But they're also underestimating and being callous to trans men and intersex people and other people on the gender spectrum -- and in many cases, are doing a lot worse to them. Like not even believing they exist. Or believing that not only are they not entitled to abortion care, but they're not entitled to ANY medical care until they conform to the gender assigned to them upon birth (or upon strangers' snap judgments). Or doing violence to them in more direct, terrifying ways. In sum, it's not just cis women whose mental health, physical health and survival are in danger.

So as long as we abortioneers owe it to women to provide abortion care that is welcoming, non-stigmatizing, non-judgmental, and as non-traumatic as possible given each particular patient's own circumstances, we will owe the same thing to men. And to gender-queer, neutrois and intersex people. How a patient identifies and presents their gender doesn't dictate what kind of care they will need or what quality of care they deserve to receive. 

Recently a coworker said something oppressive about gender-transitioning and trans people "passing," and continued to say it even when I and another colleague responded with reasons that we disagreed. She relented after a time, but I was still frustrated that even my workplace isn't everything I know it can be. (We do occasional "values clarification" sessions to identify our individual values about abortion; I wonder if any abortion providers incorporate issues of gender and sexuality in such workshops?) But I'm aware that the trans* and queer- friendliness of abortion providers can vary widely, (almost?) as widely as in any other medical field, and so I worry that other places I may work in the future, wherever they may be, might not live up to my generally-positive experiences to date. 


  1. Fantastic post on something I hadn't even thought about, despite my many hours of feministing. Thank you for opening my eyes on this topic.

  2. This is a very good point. There are many trans men (I would venture so far as to say the majority) who require "women's health care services" of whatever sort, and the lack of sensitivity / understanding remains a huge problem in our community, not only for abortion, pregnancy and gynecological care, but into general and emergency health care, as well. It's nice to see someone address the issue so positively. :]

  3. Great post! I wonder about the word choice for including all persons who need abortion care. I recently wrote a cover letter for an application where I used "pregnant people" in place of "women", but found it difficult to replace all iterations of woman/women. Pregnant people/persons sounds somehow disjointed. Anyone have any other inclusive language suggestions?


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