Who has abortions? For most of human history, the answer was obvious: women have abortions. Girls have abortions. Not any more. People have abortions. Patients have abortions. Men have abortions. “We must acknowledge and come to terms with the implicit cissexism in assuming that only women have abortions,” wrote feminist activist Lauren Rankin in July 2013 in truthout.com. She went on to criticize as exclusionary slogans like “the War on Women” and “Stand with Texas Women.”
Such claims may sound arcane to most people. One area in which they have been quietly effective, though, is in reproductive-rights activism. Abortion funds, which offer help paying for an abortion when Medicaid or insurance won’t, have become a thriving hub of grassroots feminism. They draw hundreds of activists, young and old, to donate countless hours to provide direct service and advocate for better funding for abortion. In the past few years, a number of the funds have quietly removed references to “women” from their messaging in order to be more welcoming to trans men and others who do not identify as women but can still become pregnant. The New York Abortion Access Fund changed its language in 2012. Its mission statement now mentions “anyone,” “every person” and “the people who call our hotline.” The Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund helps “callers,” the Lilith Fund helps “Texans.” Last year Fund Texas Women, which pays travel and hotel costs in the wake of the closing of many clinics in the state, became Fund Texas Choice. (“Choice” is a problematic word too, but that’s a subject for another day.) In a message to supporters, co-founder Lenzi Scheible wrote, “with a name like Fund Texas Women, we were publicly excluding trans* people who needed to get an abortion but were not women. We refuse to deny the existence and humanity of trans* people any longer.”
I’m going to argue here that removing “women” from the language of abortion is a mistake. We can, and should, support trans men and other gender-non-conforming people. But we can do that without rendering invisible half of humanity and 99.999 percent of those who get pregnant. I know I’ll offend, hurt and disappoint some people, including abortion-fund activists I love dearly. That is why I’ve started this column many times over many months and put it aside. I tell myself I might be wrong—it’s happened before.
The telling thing is that Katha Pollitt, who has never been a shrinking violet as a polemicist, concedes her anxiety in making this argument. An argument that claims that only women have abortions. This is controversial on the Left.
Tomorrow they’ll be fighting over whether the Times should publish the wedding announcement when the emperor marries his horse.
Where is the American Houellebecq? Come quickly.