Watch Your Mouth: Inclusive Language in Abortion Activism
As I write this, my brain is teeming with the various tweets I’ve seen regarding the restrictive abortion laws passed over the past few weeks. Alabama is quickly moving toward a complete ban on abortion, while the governor of Georgia recently signed off on a 6 week abortion ban. I stand with many around the country who have expressed their fear, disgust, and anger regarding this legislation, but the language that’s been used has kept me retweeting and sharing most of the posts that I agree with. We have to be more inclusive when we talk about abortion rights, because cisgender women aren’t the only people who can get pregnant or need an abortion.
It’s true that cisgender women are the primary targets of laws that restrict abortion access. The people who write, advocate for, and pass these laws are clearly trying to harm cisgender women. In their quest to deny the social, legal, and reproductive rights of cis women, it is doubtful that anti-abortion politicians are looking at gender as a spectrum rather than a binary. As a Black cisgender woman, I’m aware that I am the kind of person that these legislators are trying to attack and oppress. But even knowing this, we must be aware of that fact that trans, nonbinary, and genderqueer people are also harmed by these laws. Our fight for reproductive freedom has to reflect this understanding, and avoid framing the fight as a “war on women”.
When we try to make our abortion activism inclusive, we need know and accept that people across the gender spectrum can get pregnant. This goes beyond language and gets into who needs what. Of course we should make sure that our chants and fliers are gender inclusive, but our activism needs to reflect the fact that everyone with an active uterus deserves the right to abortion care. Trans people need to be explicitly included in the discussion about abortion rights and access, or we run the risk of centering only cisgender women.
While social media has proved to be a powerful way to share resources and mobilize people who are angry about the anti-abortion, there is still work to be done to make sure that we reflect everyone who is harmed by these laws. Shifting language in a space as vast as social media is difficult, but that’s no reason not to try.
If you or your organization is planning to make a post, thread, or any online content about abortion, I would highly recommend avoiding the gender binary altogether and using phrases like “people” or “anyone who can get pregnant”, rather than focusing on women specifically.
In addition, if anyone out there wants to tweet about how the world would be different if men could get pregnant, think about the trans men and nonbinary in Alabama, Georgia, and beyond who would be erased by that statement. There is likely another way to get the point across, whether that’s specifying cisgender men, or specifically talking about how people with privilege would be affected if they somehow lost abortion access.
As a cisgender woman, there’s only so much I can say about trans-inclusivity in the reproductive rights movement and abortion activism. The best way to understand is to get information first hand, like this article about a trans man who had an abortion. After doing our reading and research, there is plenty that cisgender activists can do to make sure that movements and organizations aren’t ignoring the reality of trans people needing abortions.
If you’re part of a reproductive rights organization that’s been advocating against these laws, check out the language on any posts and graphics being made. If you only include women in your advocacy, you’re leaving out the most marginalized people who need your support, and it defeats the purpose of advocating. In addition, make sure you talk to whoever is in charge and educate them on why abortion advocacy necessitates inclusive language. These actions are relevant no matter what kind of organization or movement you are part of.
We can all do our part to make the reproductive rights movement and abortion advocacy more friendly to trans and nonbinary people. If we ignore them in our work, we are playing into the same framing and erasure as the people who want to end legal abortion access in this country. We can and should be doing better, and we should be listening to trans and nonbinary people to find the best ways to support them and their needs for abortion care.