Speaking of Abortion: Why do we use non-gendered language when we talk about abortion access?

To put it simply, people of all genders have abortions.

The language of the reproductive rights movement focuses mostly on cisgender (cis) women, who were assigned female at birth. But cis women aren't the only people who have abortions.

Not all women can become pregnant, and not all people who can become pregnant are women. Transgender and gender-expansive people have abortions too.

Queer people haven't always been visible or welcomed in abortion advocacy, but we're here to stay.

The difference between sex and gender

Sex is a categorization of a person’s body, including their reproductive anatomy and endocrine system.

Gender is a categorization of a person’s social, cultural, and/or personal expression.

In heterosexual and patriarchal societies, people have traditionally been socialized to identify with and perform the roles of a certain gender based on their sex.

Transgender and gender-expansive people have always existed — cultures all over the world have long histories of genders outside the boxes of “men” and “women.”

The impact of cisnormativity and heteronormativity in reproductive health

Cisnormativity is the assumption that being cisgender (not transgender and/or gender-expansive) is the “normal” or “default” way to be. Similarly, heteronormativity is the assumption that being heterosexual (straight) is the “normal” or “default” way to be.

These assumptions comes from bioessentialism, a philosophy that our biology and anatomy are more influential to our psychology and development than socialization.

According to a 2020 survey, nearly half of transgender people — and 68% of trans people of color — were refused service or experienced verbal or physical abuse from a healthcare provider. Trans people are also less likely to have access to reproductive health services, and 2 in 3 trans adults worry that their gender or sexual orientation will impact their health evaluations.

Examples of cisnormativity and heteronormativity in reproductive health settings can include:

  • Names like “women’s clinic”
  • Using gendered language when describing services offered to patients
  • Assuming all pregnant and birthing patients are women
  • Assuming that being “sexually active” means having heterosexual sex
  • Refusing to use a patient’s chosen name, pronouns, or language that affirms their gender
  • Refusing services to transgender and gender-expansive people

Ultimately, we need systemic change. If medical institutions don’t teach staff and students about trans people, their experiences, and their unique needs, providers won’t have the knowledge to care for trans patients – and that includes providing abortion care.

So how can healthcare providers, abortion advocates, and community members support trans people in their care? Unlearning gendered language is one starting point.

What are some examples of gendered and non-gendered language?

Gendered (excludes gender-expansive people)

  • (Cis) Women; Women's bodies
  • Pregnant woman
  • Mother
  • Women's right to choose
  • Women's health
  • Feminine hygiene products

Non-Gendered (includes gender-expansive people)

  • People who can get pregnant
  • Pregnant person
  • Birth parent / Birthing parent
  • The right to have an abortion
  • Sexual & reproductive health
  • Menstrual hygiene products

Attacks on trans rights and abortion rights share common goals.

The goals of these ideologies aren't to protect life, babies, children, families, or mental health. The goal is to strip away our reproductive autonomy. The goal is to force everyone to conform to the rules of a cisgender, heterosexual, and patriarchal society.

Since these attacks are based in the same ideology, we need to fight for our sexual and reproductive autonomy together. Learning about and adopting non-gendered language takes time and takes some getting used to, but it’s a great place to start.

At the Baltimore Abortion Fund, we talk about abortion because abortion stigma helps legitimize bans and restrictions on reproductive care. Speaking of Abortion: is a blog series in which we talk about the nuances of abortion care, rights, and access.

When we talk openly about abortion care for what it is – a type of health care that many people receive – we break down the social taboos that reinforce the "politics" around abortion access.

Help fight abortion stigma. Talk about abortion with us.

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  • Baltimore Fund
    published this page in Blog 2023-06-30 14:19:34 -0400