Abortion rights, reproductive rights, women’s rights, reproductive justice…these terms may seem synonymous to many, but in fact they represent an evolution and intersectionality of many struggles for individuals to choose when and how to be pregnant and/or parent. Language around abortion has always been fraught with controversy, imprecision, and rhetoric. The topic of ending a pregnancy in the United States is more than a medical procedure but also carries political, ethical, and moral weight. Pro-choice advocates may use sterile scientific language while anti-choice proponents use emotion-evoking language about life and personhood. While abortion has long been a language minefield, a new abortion language issue has arisen: the gendered language of pregnancy and abortion.
In recent years, the visibility of the transgender community has increased significantly. With increased visibility, the transgender and non-binary community has also demanded more equitable and knowledgeable treatment by medical providers. In response, many family planning providers, like Planned Parenthood, have embraced the provision of transition-related care for transgender and non-binary individuals. Indeed, the tenets of reproductive justice and self-determination have pushed these health care providers to extend beyond traditional family planning services as well as make their core services more inclusive.
While many changes were easy, abortion and pregnancy are highly gendered concepts, and the use of inclusive language remains challenging and problematic. While some can understand that a transgender man may need a Pap smear or experience a yeast infection, far fewer can think about anyone other than ciswomen becoming pregnant or needing an abortion. Reflect on any experience you have had surrounding pregnancy. Do you imagine anyone besides cisgender women being pregnant? Many family planning providers similarly have had to struggle with their gendered roots in becoming more inclusive. Not all pregnant people identify as women, or have a feminine gender expression. There is inherent tension in acknowledging an organizational history rooted in the women’s rights movement that lead to Roe v. Wade, but also left out many non-white, non-cis people.
While there is a tension and reckoning that must be acknowledged between a gendered past and a more inclusive future, that has not stopped Planned Parenthood from moving forward on their commitment to transgender and non-binary folks. While it may be challenging to use language like “people who become pregnant” as opposed to “pregnant women,” it is a minor discomfort that nowhere near exceeds the benefits. Pregnancy can be an incredibly triggering experience for trans and non-binary people because of its highly gendered status in society. It is our duty to ensure their experience in our health centers is as positive, affirming, and supportive as possible. People seeking abortion already face stigma — and then add the intersecting stigma of not looking like other people in the waiting room, and concern that your medical provider may not know how to treat you properly if you are transgender. Understanding this intersectionality of gender and abortion is vital to ensuring our language and practices reflect the values of our mission.