The fall of Roe v. Wade has sparked a heated debate among some abortion rights advocates about whether gender-neutral language — such as “pregnant people” instead of “pregnant women” and “breastfeeding” instead of “breastfeeding” — should be used. used in advocacy for abortion rights.
A number of leading abortion and civil rights groups, including Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, and some Democratic legislators, such as sen. Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York, have shifted their coverage in this way to be more LGBTQ inclusive as an increasing number of Americans identify as transgender and non-binary. Even the National Education Association, the nation’s largest public teachers’ union, recently proposed changing the word “mother” in contracts to “birth parent.”
As abortion activism has escalated in recent weeks following the landmark Supreme Court decision last month to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion, some pro-abortion rights Cisgender women have taken note of these linguistic changes — and they’re not all happy.
On July 3, The New York Times published an op-ed titled “The far right and far left agree on one thing: women don’t count’, in which columnist Pamela Paul argued that the shift in messaging is erasing cisgender women — women whose gender identities match their birth gender.
“The noble intention behind the omission of the word ‘women’ is to make room for the relatively small number of transgender men and people who identify as non-binary and who retain aspects of female biological function and can conceive, give birth, or breastfeed,” Paul wrote. “But despite a spirit of inclusion, the result has been to push women aside.”
The next day, actor Bette Midler made international headlines when she tweeted, “WOMEN OF THE WORLD! We are being stripped of our rights to our bodies, our lives, and even our name! They don’t call us “women” anymore; they call us ‘births’ or ‘menstruators’, and even ‘people with vaginas’! Don’t let them erase you! Every person on earth owes you something!”
On Tuesday, Midler sent out a follow-up tweet explaining that her previous comments were in response to Paul’s “fascinating and well-written” op-ed and were not intended to be “exclusively or transphobic.”
But while the cisgender women who share these linguistic concerns view them as solidly pro-women, transgender people have largely classified them as anti-transgender.
“The idea that you can’t say the word ‘women’ strikes me as the idea that you can’t say ‘Merry Christmas,'” said Gillian Branstetter, communications strategist at the ACLU. “It’s a panic very absent from reality that tries to position a growing, changing society as a threat.”
Branstetter also noted that while the ACLUs press release after the Roe reversal, the term “pregnant people” was used, the word “women” was used more than a dozen times.
One argument made by cisgender women against using gender-neutral language to advocate for abortion rights is that the number of cisgender women seeking reproductive care far exceeds the number of trans and non-binary people seeking similar care.
“Every creature that has ever needed an abortion in all of human history has been female,” said bestselling author Helen Joyce, who has written a series of articles for The Economist and a book challenging transgender identities. “And until recently, for most people, we used the word ‘women’ for female people.”
Joyce added that using gender neutral language makes women invisible and breaks down their collective political power.
“It would be like trying to fight against slavery by saying ‘people own’ and ‘people are property’,” said Joyce, who is an abortion rights advocate. “Well, which people own? And which people are owned? You have to name the people who have been affected by something.”
Little research has been done on the number of trans or non-binary people who have abortions in the US as most medical systems register them as female. However, a 2020 study by Planned Parenthood and the Guttmacher Institute — a research and policy organization dedicated to expanding sexual and reproductive health and rights worldwide — estimated that of the approximately 862,000 abortions performed in the U.S. in 2017, 462 to 530 were performed on trans or non-binary people. But given the growing number of Americans identifying as trans or non-binary, experts think the number could be higher. A survey published last month by the Pew Research Center found that approximately 5% of young adults in the US identify as transgender or non-binary.
Adri Pèrez, 29, who is non-binary, had an abortion as a teenager after being sexually assaulted and before transitioning.
“I was 16 years old; I was a girl,” said Pèrez. “To describe me as a ‘female’ even then it would have been offensive and factually incorrect.”
Pèrez also said that language that does not include trans or non-binary people perpetuates health care discrimination against them and prevents them from seeking necessary care.† More than a third of transgender people who have been pregnant considered terminating the pregnancy themselves because of barriers to abortion access and health care abuse, according to a report 2019 by the journal BMJ Seuxal & Reproductive Health.
Nearly half of transgender people — and 68% of transgender people of color — report experiencing maltreatment by a medical provider, including refusal of care and verbal or physical abuse, according to a 2021 report from the Center for American Progress, a liberal thinktank. The survey of 1,528 LGBTQ people also found that 28% of transgender people and 22% of transgender people of color reported delaying or not receiving necessary medical care for fear of discrimination.
“When I first came out in 2010 and when I first started trying to transition in 2012, there were no doctors in my town who knew how to treat or talk to transgender patients,” says Pèrez, who lives in Austin, Texas. , said. “I was so desperate that I emailed them all and attached studies and research, and none of them would see me.”
Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at Harvard Law’s Cyberlaw Clinic and a transgender rights advocate, said she is concerned that this latest debate will erode public support for transgender people at a time when their rights are being debated at an historic pace.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, more than 340 anti-LGBTQ laws were introduced this year in states across the country.
“This just gives more green light to transphobic people to push through transphobic policies and create the false sense of scarcity that trans rights somehow conflict with women’s rights, when they often go hand in hand,” Carabello said. .
Despite recent criticisms of gender-neutral language in the abortion rights movement, a poll of more than 10,000 Americans released last month by the Pew Research Center found that women — and especially Democratic or liberal-minded women — tend to be more accepting of the transgender accept. community than men. For example, the poll found that among Democrats and Democratic leaners, 54% of women surveyed say it’s “extreme” or “very important” to refer to transgender people by their new pronouns, compared with 46% of men in the same political group. .
Mini Timmaraju, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said she didn’t see herself in the feminist movement as a woman of color growing up. But today the movement is stronger because of its diversity, she said.
“Women have a right to be angry, but we need to focus on the real villain here,” Timmaraju said. “It’s not the trans community or non-binary people taking away your rights. They are extremist Republican elected officials.”