Fates Worse Than Death: How Overruling Roe v. Wade Would Impact the Trans Community
CW: Abortion, Rape, Molestation, Sexual Assault, Kidnapping, Human Trafficking, Suicide
Author’s Note: The objective of this article is not meant to convince you to be or become pro-choice or pro-abortion (which are different ideas, by the way). Any concrete arguments for or against access to safe, legal abortion are beyond the scope of this piece, though I’ve shared some in the sources section. I’m only writing to inform readers of some of the ramifications that denying this right has on countless (but not all) AFAB (Assigned-Female-At-Birth) members of the transgender community.
I was nine years old when I first told my mother that I wanted to rip my uterus out.
This very literal sentiment was my natural, albeit violent, reaction to the mere idea that I was biologically capable of bearing and delivering children, two years before I even had my first menstrual cycle. Coming back from work this Monday to find the leaked draft of the majority opinion in support of overruling Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey sent my stomach through the floor, in no small part, because although I’ve been on testosterone for over eight years, I still wield the power to bear a fetus to full-term and deliver a baby. The fact is that the right to access safe and legal abortions still affects me and other AFAB transgender people.
Before I get vulnerable, let’s talk about the legal implications of this draft. To better understand these, I spoke with Dr. Amy Friesenhahn (she/her/hers), assistant professor of political science at Centenary College of Louisiana.
“Monday night, there was breaking news that Politico obtained a draft of a majority Supreme Court opinion in the Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization Supreme Court case that the Court heard oral argument for in December,” she said. This draft, confirmed to be authentic, implies that “the majority of the Supreme Court appears poised to overrule the precedents set in Roe v Wade and Planned Parenthood v Casey establishing right to abortion.”
Friesenhahn explained that the original case, Dobbs v Jackson, was already struck down by lower-level federal courts, based on precedents set by the Supreme Court, and that the State of Mississippi appealed to the Supreme Court. The decision of the Supreme Court to take this case up, along with recent changes in members of the Supreme Court, and the oral arguments made by conservative-leaning judges all foreshadowed the preliminary vote made by the Court that resulted in most judges voting to overturn Roe v Wade and Planned Parenthood v Casey. After the preliminary vote (which has already occurred), drafts are circulated with opinions of those who disagree or want to bargain with the majority opinion. This draft that has been leaked is labeled as the first draft.
What does this actually mean then?
“It’s likely that the actual final opinion… The official decision of the Court that’s binding on states and the public will be somewhat like this first draft… Just to speculate, this leak could lead Justice Alito and those justices who are in the majority to want the final decision to be more like this first draft… they might look like they made too many concessions if it’s shifted or revised too significantly,” said Friesenhahn. This means, likely near the end of June, that states would then decide within their own state legislatures and state court systems whether to ban abortions (as it was before 1973), and many states have already prepared what are called “trigger laws”, which were designed to immediately go into effect should the Supreme Court overturn Roe v Wade and Planned Parenthood v Casey.
“Probably the nearest states with legal abortion would be Colorado and New Mexico for residents of North Louisiana,” she said.
From Shreveport to New Mexico’s east-most abortion clinic, there are 682 miles, a 10-hour drive or 4-hour and 40 minute plane ride, if non-stop. For Colorado, it would be 866 miles, if non-stop, a 13-hour drive or 5-hour plane ride.
Even more alarmingly, this leaked draft has implications beyond reproductive rights. Because the leaked first draft specifically cites the fact that abortion is not what is called an enumerated right, or a right explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, that it should be overturned. Unenumerated rights are rights not written explicitly in the Constitution and include the right to travel, privacy, autonomy, dignity, and the right to have an abortion. If Roe v Wade and Parenthood v Casey are overturned due to abortion being unenumerated, other rights the Supreme Court has decided we have (e.g. right to contraception, right to interracial marriage, right to same-sex marriage and even sodomy) are called into question and at risk of being denied.
I suppose it’s time for that vulnerability I referred to earlier. Pregnancy is an experience many people, AFAB trans people included, find deeply meaningful. For me and so many other trans people, however, it would be a deeply traumatizing experience which, if resulting in a baby, would also create exponentially more suffering for the resulting human in question (whether through the experience of being put into the abysmal U.S. foster system or raised in a household with at least one parent who may harbor resentment and psychologically associate their child with trauma).
This seems to some to be a logical problem with a logical solution: don’t get pregnant. For me, this is slightly easier; I’m not having sexual relations with folks with whom sexual intercourse might result in a pregnancy. It’s important to note that a large number of AFAB transgender people do not have this experience though; there are countless trans men and nonbinary AFAB people who have sexual experiences that can (and sometimes do) result in pregnancies.
Take Michael (he/him/his) for example, a trans man living in Louisiana with his partner, a cisgender man. Michael was told his likelihood of pregnancy was very low, as he had been taking testosterone for almost nine years. With a public-facing job and insurmountable stigma associated with what being pregnant would mean for him, Michael made the decision, immediately after finding out that he was pregnant, to have an abortion. His decision may have been immediate, but the experience was far from easy. Before the appointment at the abortion clinic, he was bleeding heavily and went to the emergency room. Upon learning Michael was trans, healthcare practitioners refused to use his correct pronouns. Everyone at the abortion clinic itself was much more nice and respectful, even with knowledge of why Michael was there. Still, Michael recounts, “I underestimated how hard it would be, both physically and emotionally. Although I knew it was what I needed to do for me and my body, there was a part of me that wondered what it would be like to have my own child with my and my partner’s DNA.” This ambivalence is a common response for people who choose to have or consider having abortions and does not discount from his right to choose or the decision-making process.
There are also folks like Alyssa (she/her/hers or they/their/them), a nonbinary person from Louisiana, now living in Seattle, Washington. They concur with the difficulty that comes with this process. Despite being molested from ages five to seven; being groomed and coerced by a teacher into a three-year relationship of emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse; and enduring another abusive relationship afterwards; Alyssa maintains that finding out they were pregnant (within the two-week period during which they were planning to transition from taking birth control pills to being implanted with an IUD), choosing to have an abortion, and going through the process was the most traumatic event they have ever been through. It was full of pain, both physical and psychological, as there were many parts triggering for them. Additionally, the threat of inaccessible abortions for themself and others was a glaring and constant source of guilt. Alyssa had experienced unemployment and food insecurity just a short time before securing a job that helped fund their abortion process and empathizes with those who don’t have access to abortion funds. They add that local and national political climate make a difference, expressing that if they’d been in one of the states with anti-abortion legislation, they would have been imprisoned. Finally, timing is a factor that Alyssa is sensitive to: “I’m so glad it happened in November 2021 and not right now.” No attempt to express the anguish, trauma, and hardship that Alyssa’s lengthy abortion process has caused them will do it justice, but even still, they say, “I don’t regret a second of it. It was a decision I made for myself, and it was the right decision. I know my life better than anyone else can…. I know I wasn’t ready [in reference to being a parent].”
Even without consideration of the diversity of sexual practices and precautions of AFAB transgender people, the problems we face are never as simple as don’t get pregnant. Growing up, I was socialized as a girl. I was told the things society tells girls, including don’t get raped. I still walk around with a perpetual fear of being raped (as wells as being kidnapped for human trafficking or sexually assaulted). Regardless of the likelihood of being raped (which may be higher for me than one would believe, due especially to “corrective rape”), I can’t help but constantly feel like my genitalia is a liability that I’d rather not handle, and if “found out,” i.e. raped, the decision to commit suicide would be easy and automatic for me. The fear and terror that comes with the constant threat of rape is compounded by the complex relationship I have to my sexuality and genitalia. This includes the threat that I may get pregnant and is informed by access to safe and legal abortions. I may be able to survive a rape. I may even be able to survive a rape test and pursue legal action, if only in the name of protecting people who come after me and might interact with the rapist. However, as it stands, there are still days when I take a shower with shorts on to hide my body from myself, so I know with certainty that I could not survive a pregnancy that would result with the hosting and birth of my rapist’s child. The right to access a safe and legal abortion is a beacon of hope for me, as a transgender man who experiences dysphoria. It honors preservation of my life as well as the values I have of what quality of life my (or any) children deserve.
The title of this article succinctly sums up how I feel. I believe there are fates worse than death. The fate of being forced to carry to term an eventual baby you don’t want or can’t care for. The fate of being forced into a world that is not only not equipped for your existence but will promise suffering and increase the likelihood of trauma because of that lack of readiness. (This second fate is worse to me than death, but I do not necessarily denote being aborted as experiencing death as we know it. Nor do I maintain that choosing abortion is choosing to kill a person.) Legal and safe abortions made readily accessible to anybody for any reason helps curb these fates and saves suffering while honoring the right every biologically capable person has to choose whether or not to be pregnant, carry a fetus, and deliver a potential human into the world.
For Michael, “access to abortion means low cost clinics, preferably in every state. It means access for all people to feel safe and secure during the process.” For Alyssa, this leaked draft represents “the precedent that will start unraveling our rights” by functioning as an opportunistic strategy by the Right: “I believe they’re taking down easy targets one at a time… People underestimate the domino effect that this is going to have. I’m deeply terrified that people aren’t seeing what’s unfolding.” For me, my right to choose abortion represents life and its potential more than any fetus ever could.
A special thanks to Dr. Amy Friesenhahn, for patiently and eloquently talking to me about this very complex issue in a way that I could understand, and to Michael & Alyssa, for sharing their stories and expending energy for this article and cause.
For anyone in need of abortion care in Shreveport, please contact Hope Medical Group.
For more information on the leaked draft and its implications, as well as links and downloads:
Original breaking story with downloadable PDF or Dobbs opinion draft: https://www.politico.com/news/2022/05/02/supreme-court-abortion-draft-opinion-00029473
This article includes a helpful summary of the normal “Process of Voting” for the Supreme Court Justices: https://www.cnn.com/2022/05/02/politics/roe-v-wade-supreme-court/index.html
Scotus Blog’s first story about the news and the impact on the Court as an institution (Scotus Blog is a highly reputable source for independent analysis on the Court by legal scholars, etc.): https://www.scotusblog.com/2022/05/court-has-voted-to-overturn-roe-according-to-draft-opinion-published-by-politico/
Scotus Blog’s tweet with official statement from the Chief Justice confirming the authenticity of the draft: https://twitter.com/SCOTUSblog/status/1521509850181742592
Reuters on the breaking news about the Chief Justice’s official statement: https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-supreme-court-launches-probe-into-leak-draft-abortion-opinion-2022-05-03/
NPR on the impact of overturning Roe on abortion access: https://www.npr.org/2022/05/03/1096094942/roe-wade-overturned-what-happens-next
Guttmacher Institute (a pro-choice research organization) on states with abortion-related trigger laws, with updates: https://www.guttmacher.org/article/2021/10/26-states-are-certain-or-likely-ban-abortion-without-roe-heres-which-ones-and-why
Congressional testimony from Melissa Murray (Professor of Law at NYU) on abortion access with a very helpful analysis of other Court decisions and rights rooted in our right to privacy: https://oversight.house.gov/sites/democrats.oversight.house.gov/files/Murray%20Testimony.pdf
Enumerated vs. Unenumerated Rights: https://constitutionus.com/constitution/rights/what-enumerated-and-unenumerated-rights-does-an-american-have/#:~:text=Enumerated%20vs%20Unenumerated%20Rights,but%20are%20still%20legally%20relevant.
For people looking for more information about AFAB people and reproductive care:
https://www.npr.org/2022/05/05/1096365879/roe-wade-abortion-transgender-scotus-marriage-contraceptives-privacy-rights talks about “the violence of forced pregnancy” more eloquently and calmly then I ever could.
For people looking to help contribute to abortion funds:
https://www.gq.com/story/how-to-support-abortion-access has a very well-rounded list of funds across the nation.
Interesting thought experiments by Judith Jarvis Thompson that, in my opinion, shatter the logic of most anti-abortion stances: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Defense_of_Abortion#:~:text=In%20%22A%20Defense%20of%20Abortion,A%20famous%20unconscious%20violinist.
For people who don’t trust women or people who express their ability to have an abortion to speak on their right to get an abortion, see Dr. Nathan Nobis, professor of philosophy at Morehouse College, at https://www.nathannobis.com/. He makes rational points as to why most abortions are not wrong and why all abortions should be legal.
He also wrote an open-source e-book (also obtainable in print for under $6), which outlines arguments for and against accessible abortions: https://www.abortionarguments.com/p/this-book-introduces-readers-to-many.html
Here is his YouTube Channel, chock full of easily accessible talks and musings on the ethics of abortion and ethics in general: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMJZ9_PEfjgyl-4WKoZoLCg. A relevant collection of videos here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLlBWIKj9Hh0bakTUJkMQ-TtLH93Rh5cPp
Here’s his TikTok Channel: https://email@example.com