Why I won’t be talking about abortion as a “women’s issue” anymore

This is simple.

As many of you know, this weekend I attended the CLPP conference up at Hampshire College, where I attended, among other amazing panels, a panel on Transfeminism featuring our very own Jos Truitt.

And Jos and her co-panelists spoke really compellingly about how to be a trans ally, and how to make sure that the reproductive justice movement is putting forth a comprehensive agenda that includes trans issues. To this end, Jos had a simple yet profound point, that I feel is worth mentioning again and again because it a great example of something tangible, practical, and incredibly straightforward that we can all start doing right now to strengthen our trans activism and our reproductive justice work:

Stop saying and stop thinking that abortion is a women’s issue.

That’s it. Pretty simple right? But incredibly important.

Cause, the thing is, it’s not just women that have abortions

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, and the more they are excluded by the movement.

Jos also made a really good point on the panel that I want to highlight here.

Gender is this thing that we construct out of a million different characteristics. The way we hold our hands. The length of our hair. The shape of our face. What we wear. Our voices. But then, for some reason, when we got to the question of what is it really, we go to what lives between your legs. Even though that’s not how we make gender and that’s not how gender works. It’s in that assumption that gender lives in our crotches, that we end up erasing the reality that men can have abortions, men can get pregnant and give birth.

So I’m pledging, right here and now, to stop framing the issue of abortion access as one that’s unique to women. I hope you will too!

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/nicolelongstreath/ Nicole Longstreath

    Reframing the debate in this way is great because it brings some much-needed awareness regarding the issue of gender.
    Obviously, we’ll never have the support of the conservative right, however I think the bigger objective here is reframing the debate to gain support among those who are uncommitted in their beliefs about the right to choose.
    I don’t know yet what that frame is, but neutralizing the gender in the issue definitely helps reach more minds.


  • http://feministing.com/members/micromermaid/ Alexandra North

    I’m not sure if I agree entirely. I too am working to become more trans-inclusive in my politics, but I don’t know if ceasing to conceptualize of abortion as a women’s issue is entirely productive. It is not just women who get abortions, but predominantly that is the case. And I know that healthcare access is a huge issue in the trans-community, but anti-abortion healthcare politics predominantly affect women. I would argue that anti-abortion politics are a direct attack on women and their bodies. Yes, transpersons are affected by this as well, but they are not necessarily the target. It’s like men and eating disorders— yes it happens to men too, but there is no denying that eating disorders is a gendered issue that disproportionately affects women. I am afraid that if we stop thinking about abortion as a women’s issue, we might lose touch with how anti-abortion politics work to systemically oppress women because they are women. I definitely think it’s helpful to examine how people who are not sis-gendered women are affected by this, but I don’t know if an entire paradigm shift in how this issue is gendered is necessarily the most effective strategy.

    I am still unsure about this, and am definitely open for discussion and disagreement.

    • http://feministing.com/members/affekatze/ HolyMoly

      I completely agree with you about this. All these issues are valid and important, but to get people on board re: gender, they need to be educated. Gender construction is societal, but it is often taught … in college … probably using Judith Bulter … who is not going to be accessible to a woman who is working 2 jobs, feeding a family, having a life, etc. It’s really important to be cautious when dealing with stuff like this, because it can come off sounding like elitist academic-ism (Totally just made that word up.)

      I do believe in trans rights and I am inclusive regarding my politics; however, I think that restructuring the whole abortion debate to avoid using “women” has the potential to be detrimental.

      • http://feministing.com/members/prettyamiable/ PrettyAmiable

        Just to own my privilege – I am college educated. That said, I did not learn about trans rights and trans issues and gender construction while at college. I learned about it afterwards from actively participating in social activism. I also don’t really know who Judith Butler is.

        What does a woman who is working 2 jobs, feeding a family, having a life, etc need to understand that trans men can also be people who work 2 jobs, feed their families, and have lives?

        This restructuring doesn’t have to be massive. It just means paying attention to your words and letting the voices who live lives that don’t belong to most people getting abortions speak.

    • http://feministing.com/members/jemma/ Jemma Howitzer

      Alex Myn, you are not a trans ally, stop kidding yourself. People like YOU actively reinforce cissexual privilege.

      When you refer to abortion issues as women’s issues, you are stating to all the trans people reading your comment that trans men (who need access to abortions) are women, and trans women (who do not need access to abortions) are therefore, not women. So your speech is broken.

      You acknowledge that healthcare is a huge issue in the trans community, but then say “Oh well! WHAT ABOUT ME”. You throw away trans people’s access to vital healthcare without a second thought, just to “make the ideas a little easier for other cissexuals to digest”, implying that trans people are complicated, weird, exotic, and frankly just not worth understanding. This is exactly what our politicians did with EDNA. An ally would not do that. An ally would understand that 6 year olds could understand what “transgender” means.

      Read this comment you wrote: “I would argue that anti-abortion politics are a direct attack on women and their bodies. Yes, transpersons are affected by this as well, but they are not necessarily the target.” I would argue you’re an idiot. Trans MEN are affected by this. They ARE the target. They ARE prevented necessary health services. Anti-abortion politics are a direct attack on cis women and trans men and their bodies. Trans women and cis men are also indirectly affected by these policies, it hurts to see our partners, families, and friends denied access to healthcare.

      And what do you mean “transpersons”? it’s trans persons. With a space. Do you say blackman? Disabilityman? Fatman? Deafman?

      What do you care about grammar anyways? You said you’re willing to sacrifice our entire class of people for “the most effective strategy”( for cis women). You’re willing to maintain inequality between social classes for personal gain.

    • http://feministing.com/members/gabrriel/ Gabe

      It’s true — and important to remember — that a lot of anti-abortion rhetoric and activity is based in sexism and thus targets women. But that’s no excuse to label as a “women’s issue” something that profoundly affects plenty of people who aren’t women. That framing (and any framing that relies on the idea that “most” people are cisgender) is cissexist and perpetuates cisgender identity as a norm. It contributes to the oppression of trans people, which is itself a sexist project. I really don’t think it’s that difficult for people to grasp the difference between an issue created by anti-woman forces and an issue that only belongs to women, and I certainly don’t think fudging that distinction is worth it when it means hurting a whole lot of people without cis privilege.

      Also: the idea that there’s a single “trans-community” is misleading (you think we’re not part of your communities?) and just plain wrong. Is there a “woman-community”? Wouldn’t it be kind of sexist if I (a man, to boot) implied there was?

  • http://feministing.com/members/ginasf/ Gina Morvay

    @Lori: While I truly do appreciate the gist of what this post is saying and that you’re giving props to the transfeminism panel… I really find it troubling that you mention seeing a panel of trans women and then follow that by “abortion is no longer just a women’s issue.” Whether that was the intended message or not, what I potentially read from it is… ‘here was a panel of people who exactly women and, hey, even they were talking about abortion.’ Yes, I’m sure you’re an ally, and I get what you mean by people who aren’t female ID’d needing abortion, but if I, as a trans woman (who very certainly does support choice) am supposed to feel warm and fuzzy by this juxtaposition, it really doesn’t feel that way.

  • http://feministing.com/members/saltyc/ barf

    I agree that men have abortions, and they go through all the same obstacles that affect women who get abortions, plus more. I would like to get to that place where I don’t say abortion is a woman’s issue.

    But woman-hatred is a major reason that abortion is criminalized. Female sexuality is criminalized and shamed in a particular way and this is the major reason that abortion is too.

    I see childcare, battery and poverty also as having gender-specific components though these also obviously affect men.

    The anti-choice activists love to erase the fact that they are motivated by hatred of women, this is my main problem with getting to where you are.

    I absolutely support men who need abortions or want to carry to term and would like to know more about their experience. I suspect that I would find many similarities with the oppression that we women who face the situation also go through, which does make me want to remove gender from the framing. It’s the sexism in anti’s that makes me pause.

    • http://feministing.com/members/glitterary/ glitterary

      Yes, I agree with this. A great deal of anti-choice thought is informed by a fear of female sexuality and autonomy, and I’m sure this is doubly so for trans people who have to deal with the intersection of transphobia and misogyny. People who are disgusted by female sexuality are probably not too keen on transsexuality either. They probably also never even conceived of abortion as affecting anyone other than women. The underlying motives to anti-choice are based on a very cis view of gender, which is what the idea of abortion as a “women’s issue” is based on. I think we need to recognise that as the mindset which we are challenging in most debates on abortion.

      Although from a feminist perspective we should be appreciating (which I didn’t until this post, due to my cisgender privilege) and emphasising that abortion affects trans men as well as cis women and genderqueer people, most mainstream discussion of abortion has the potential to be derailed by the inclusion of arguments that do not conform to traditional ideas of gender.

      That ABSOLUTELY DOES NOT MEAN that we shouldn’t raise them, or fight just as hard for transgender issues around abortion as cisgender ones or privilege the latter over the former, but it does mean that when we talk about abortion we need to to find ways of including intersectionality while retaining a focus on the issue of abortion (rather than veering off into a trite discussion of what is/isn’t a woman).

      There are very valuable arguments we can make once we embrace the importance of trans experiences of abortion–we just need to make sure the people we’re arguing with don’t get distracted from the original discussion as a result.

      • http://feministing.com/members/glitterary/ glitterary


        They probably also never even conceived of abortion as affecting anyone other than CIS women.

      • http://feministing.com/members/saltyc/ barf

        You know, you make a lot of sense. I feel the shift happening in me. Perhaps taking it out of the women’s issue will help people accept abortion rights more. I was just daydreaming today about a story in which a man has an abortion and it totally felt liberating, this just may be the right path after all. We’ll see how I feel later, like I say I feel it shifting right now.

    • honeybee

      I actually quite disagree with your assertion that it’s about hating women. There may be some small percentage of people who are like that, but the vast majority of pro-life people I know (e.g., all the pro-life women) are honestly, and legimately, concerned about the fetus. They honestly believe it is murder and a sin and want to protect the babies.

      Think of all the feminists or want-to-be-feminists who have proclaimed they want to be pro-life too but don’t want to be excluded from feminism. Think of all the pro-life women. Think of all the religious folks who have been trained to believe in the sanctity of life. These people care about protecting babies.

      If anything I think it’s the other way around – that the fact the women/feminists defend the right to choose might lead to further hatred of women, but not the way you describe. Because most of these people are legimately concerned about life and it’s gotta nothing to do with you personally or your gender.

      • http://feministing.com/members/saltyc/ barf

        I don’t buy it at all, that people who are intent on criminalizing abortion, aren’t motivated by hatred or disgust of female sexuality, whether or not they’re women.

        If it were really about the fetus, would they really want to:

        – silence the pregnant person’s reasons for having abortions?
        – Throw patients and doctors in jail (do they not realize this is happening now in countries not far from us?)
        – force people to grow babies inside them against their will (this is a consequence of the Hyde amendment that I have personally witnessed)
        – destroy parent/child relationships in which the bond of trust is broken by a son or daughter’s inability to speak to their parents about a crisis pregnancy (A direct result of “pro-life” activism which I also have witnessed)

        On and on. Yes you can be concerned about a fetus, yes you can consider it fully human person like you or I, but to take it to the level of criminalizing people in impossible situations takes a level of woman-hatred that can’t be ignored or minimized, even if it’s unspoken. I can totally accept a trans man feeling really badly about having an abortion, enough to keep the baby principally for that reason. But I just can’t imagine such a person would reasonably hold someone else to commit to the same sacrifice. It just wouldn’t be his body being used to create/sustain another life. The same way someone who donates a kidney wouldn’t hold it against another for not doing the same, it’s not reasonable.

        • http://feministing.com/members/saltyc/ barf

          Maybe I should elaborate on why I chose as an example a trans man keeping the baby just because of his caring about the fetus, when honeybee was talking about “pro-life” women.
          The reason I chose this was that a man is that it would be a clear example of someone who wasn’t simply internalizing the woman-hatred in that example, that’s why. Of course I’m not educated on these issues and just going with my heart. Anyway I almost said “personally pro-life” but that term is still problematic for me. How can anyone adopt the label of a terrorist movement with a track record of chaos and misery?

      • http://feministing.com/members/rljd/ Jesse Dangerously

        I have found that anti-choice footsoldiers and moral support tend to be swayed by fetus=baby talk (and women), but organizers and power movers are driven by misogyny (and men). I’m sure it’s not true across the board, but it’s how I think of it generally.

  • http://feministing.com/members/wendylyon/ Wendy Lyon

    I would tend to agree with Alex on this, for all the reasons she has already given. Also, if Jos’s argument is correct, why would it only apply to abortion? Following her line of reasoning I am hard-pressed to think of anything that could legitimately be described as a women’s issue, since pretty much anything that concerns us could also concern trans men and the other categories mentioned. The logical conclusion of that argument would seem to render impossible the notion of “women’s issues” at all. Perhaps that is the ultimate objective, but especially given the things that Alex has pointed out, I can’t see why any of us would want to make abortion the starting point for it.

    • http://feministing.com/members/mjameson/ Matthew T. Jameson

      Can it just be a Feminist issue so that we can keep fighting for people’s rights?

      • http://feministing.com/members/inallsincerity/ inallsincerity

        @Matthew, No, that would be entirely too sensible :) LOL– I think that was the point of the O.P. that instead of calling abortion a women’s issue it should be considered a feminist issue or an issue of reproductive justice or any of the other gender inclusive varieties.

        I’m a man. If I found out today that I am pregnant, I would get an abortion. And I would be able to because I live in a country where the feminist movement has made abortion for “free and on demand” a reality. A friend of mine got an abortion two weeks ago. She was able to discuss the decision with her family, friends and co-workers without being stigmatized and everyone supported her decision. I want that for other countries too.

        • http://feministing.com/members/mjameson/ Matthew T. Jameson

          Yes, I picked up on that. However, the phrase, “Abortion is a feminist issue,” does not evoke divisive argument, rancor and allegations that certain members of the same feminist community fighting for human rights are “not allies.” Can you say that for, “Abortion is not a women’s issue.” I get the OP’s point, but words matter, and the words used resulted in in-fighting and disunity.

  • http://feministing.com/members/dirtydudley/ dudley

    When I read the headline, I thought that the article was going to go one of two directions: 1.) Loving committed hetero men who don’t want children but have a steady sex partner should fight for abortion or 2.) the more we undermine the 1950’s era television inspired idea of an american family, by unhinging hetero-sex from childbearing, the better off we would all be. They seem like bigger bullet points, but I’m a straight guy, so of course they seem so!

    I read a great piece about the economics and the gay identity that i can’t seem to find now, where conservative politics places a premium on the “nuclear family” and the castigation of all lgbtq persons as “other,” and as threats against “normality,” is an effective political maneuver. The American economics of 1950’s and 60’s, shifted away from a family-unit-based-economy (women cook, wash, clean, maintain home, and men bring in cash) to an individual based economy (2 wage-earner, hired babysitters). This is important because conservatives stuck to the former mindset and attacked all things contributing to aspects of the latter as threats to the American Way. Out LGBTQ people were and are a target, and we inherited all of this. The only way to undermine this system is to separate sex from procreation so we can all enjoy the fruits of life. LGBTQ will no longer be “subverting” the “natural” system and therefor are removed from being scapegoats for our changing times. In that vein of thinking, lgbtq rights dovetail with women’s reproductive rights.

  • http://feministing.com/members/loki/ Loki

    It is a human issue. Those of us who do not have the genetic makeup that allows for the development of tissue that is able to harbor a fetus until it is able to transition into a baby have much at stake for the right to choose when one reproduces or does not reproduce regardless of who is giving birth. I am a male, and I staunchly advocate for the right to abortions (late term too because I put the conscious human giving resources to develop a fetus over the fetus itself every single fucking time) because I have come to the conclusion after much critical and rational thought that if any of us are to have the right to choose when to have a child, all of us must have the right choose when to have a child. Its why I’m for the male birth control pill/shot/etc and why I donate and look forward to volunteering for planned parenthood. All humans, regardless of *all other factors* have a right to choose if their genetic material contributes to a new human. All humans must have the right to contribute or not contribute to a new life, and still have (or not have) sex as they choose fit with a loving partner.

  • http://feministing.com/members/bellecloche/ Emily Sanford

    I understand the worries being voiced here that battling the misogyny of the anti-choice movement will become less of a concern if reproductive rights are no longer considered a women’s issue, but clinging to the “women’s issue” label is not the answer. Reproductive rights affect cis women in certain ways and trans people in others, and they also affect people of color and disabled people differently, as Feministing has often documented. The anti-choice movement is fueled by misogyny, but also by racism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, and lookism. We should constantly be aware of all these different xenophobic mentalities in the battle for reproductive freedom, recognizing that they often function differently but ultimately do the same thing: i.e., screw people over for being different and deny them their agency. If expanding the issue of reproductive rights to individuals of all gender identities means we will automatically start ignoring the misogynystic elements of the anti-choice movement, then we should always divide up issues of race and disability into the different categories of race and disability. And how helpful would that be?

    Expanding the issue beyond the “women’s issue” label decreases the likelihood that the majority ignores those who don’t experience oppression in the exact same way they do.

    • http://feministing.com/members/rljd/ Jesse Dangerously

      The anti-choice movement is fueled by misogyny, but also by racism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, and lookism.

      How is the anti-choice movement fueled by those things?

  • http://feministing.com/members/tweedledee412/ Tessa

    Excellent post! I think it’s great that we re-evaluate our speech when we talk about “women’s issues” to realise that we’re inevitably reaffirming a gender binary.

    But abortion should never have been framed as a women’s issue. In addition to the fact that not just cis women have abortions, access to abortions affects more than just the person undergoing an abortion. If affects the children that that person may have had before, the children the person may have in the future. The community around that person that may rely on his or hers health and well-being.

  • http://feministing.com/members/providinghope/ providinghope

    All really interesting points.

    I think the number of men who have commented on this post speaks to the fact that abortion rights (and their best friend reproductive justice) is everyone’s issue. I also went to a conference this weekend that encouraged us to think of the right to abortion as a human right. I couldn’t agree more. While the underpinnings of the anti-choice movement is all of the isms I hate (sexism, racism, heterosexism, etc.), at the end of the day, I see abortion rights as an issue of personal autonomy. I am currently working toward becoming an abortion provider and this (ridiculous) path through medical school has made me see abortion rights (and the right to health care) in a very different light.

    That being said, Jos (and subsequent posters here) remind us: one cannot confront any issue of social inequality without examining and fighting against all issues of social inequality. Sexism, gender privilege, heterosexism, racism, ableism, xenophobia, ageism–not one of these forms of discrimination exist in a vacuum. Acknowledging and addressing social justice issues as a whole does not take away any particular movement’s agency–I would say it lends power to “our side.”

  • http://feministing.com/members/eadske/ Katherine

    @honeybee I used to think the same way about people truly valuing the fetus. But you have to understand that’s the issue. They value the life of the fetus more than the life of the person carrying the fetus. Most believe the only purpose the carrier has is to be the mother of the fetus.
    And you can be pro-life and be in the feminist movement. Pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion. Many people who identify as pro-choice do not agree with abortion in the slightest, they just believe the carriers of the fetus should make the decision themselves on whether to carry or not.
    Religion should not be involved in the argument against or for abortion. This country specifically was not founded on any single religion and there are many religions that do not view the fetus as living anyway. One of the biggest issues with a lot of causes is using religion as the backing for their beliefs.

    • http://feministing.com/members/mjameson/ Matthew T. Jameson

      “They value the life of the fetus more than the life of the person carrying the fetus.”

      I think you can make that statement about a certain fringe of the pro-life movement that believes that all abortions must be illegal, all the time, even if the mother will die as a result. However, that only corresponds to one segment, and not the entire movement. If you look at the polling data on abortion, an overwhelming majority favor favor some types of restrictions (see: http://www.gallup.com/poll/126581/generational-differences-abortion-narrow.aspx), and plenty of that subset also considers themselves pro-life. Let’s not equate the entire movement with people who would rather see women die than have abortions.

      • http://feministing.com/members/saltyc/ barf

        Valuing someone’s life means more than hoping they don’t die, it means the life they lead. That has value. Not to mention that 7 or eight hundred American women die each year from pregnancy and childbirth, even with legal abortion. With criminalized abortion the numbers go much higher, for instance in Brazil three or four thousand women die from childbirth a year, and that’s with a “life of the mother” exception for abortion. In other words, the potential lethality of childbirth does not go away when you allow for abortion “to save the life of the mother.”
        So just favoring restrictions on abortion is by itself valuing the life of the fetus over the life of the pregnant woman. Whether those people polled admit that or even bothered to educate themselves on the matter before passing judgement on 30-40 percent of women is irrelevant.

      • http://feministing.com/members/sandra/ SamBarge

        The fact that these people would like to see abortions available with some sort of restrictions placed on them confirms that their opinion is being swayed by a dislike (if not hatred) of female sexuality.

        Let me guess, they support abortion in cases of rape and incest but not consenual sex? Because victims of sexual aggression can be pitied but women who willingly have sex should ‘live with the consequences of their actions.’ That clearly indicates a hatred for women who choose to be sexually active.

        • unequivocal

          Or they really very strongly believe that abortion is morally wrong, but feel that the extenuating circumstances caused by assault mitigate that wrongness enough to warrant an exception.

          I’m not saying that most people who feel this way about abortion aren’t motivated by a hatred of female sexuality; I’m just saying that there are, in fact, other possible reasons for this particular belief.

  • http://feministing.com/members/rljd/ Jesse Dangerously

    So what is the significance of no longer considering abortion to be a women’s issue, in terms of what anyone might do differently?

    Saying something is NOT someone’s issue is not a parallel beast to saying it is. Presumably you don’t mean that women are henceforth to be excluded from pro-choice theory? So the idea is mainly that it’s broader than that?

    So then violence against women isn’t a women’s issue, and cervical cancer isn’t a women’s issue, and the glass ceiling isn’t a women’s issue, and the problem that has no name isn’t a women’s issue, because they all – in addition to affecting women – also can affect people who incidentally may or may not be women?

    Well okay but then… so what? How do we deal with them differently? Stop putting glittery stickers all over them to begin with, I guess, but what else?

    And does it mean they’ll be seen to matter more since it’s not just chicks?

    • http://feministing.com/members/dirtydudley/ dudley

      I think your question underscores the need to assert the fact that choice isn’t just a women’s issue in forums other than a friendly online audience. With that in mind, I’ll be sure to engage others about issues of egalitarianism in real life more readily than I would usually permit myself.