Since its first appearance in a 1916 film, mainstream media representation of abortion has been hit or miss, with very few hits. Likewise, sensationalist news coverage of abortion prevails, medical misinformation is disseminated in pamphlets such as A Woman’s Right to Know, and millions of dollars are poured into anti-choice organizations. Yet, abortion continues to be one of the most common and safe medical procedures in the US. According to the Guttmacher Institute, nearly one-fourth of all US cisgender women have had an abortion by age 45.
In the Rio Grande Valley, abortion stigma persists largely due to religious objection shrouded in malicious rhetoric— with millions of dollars and strong church networks to back it up. In April of 2017, 131 Texas legislators cast their vote declaring that ending abortion is more important than controlling pollution. This June, the Supreme Court ruled that so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” receiving billions of anti-abortion dollars do not have to provide correct information about abortion.
Despite the anti-choice efforts to stigmatize and legislate abortion out of existence, several recent studies show the majority of people in the US support Roe v. Wade. Reproductive justice organizations continue to grow globally, dedicated to pursuing a safe, healthy, and just life for families.
Abortion stigma in the RGV, compounded by religion-based values and rigid gender roles, even extends to contraceptives and pre-marital sex. This stigma is a heavy weight on the shoulders of those who seek abortion services; they may feel that they are a certain type of terrible person, the imagined lowly person that anti-choice conservatives would like us to believe get abortions.
However, the reality is that getting an abortion bears no implications on a person’s character. All kinds of people get abortions.
Mothers who have had abortions
Parents get abortions. In fact, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 59 percent of those who get abortions already have children. This may surprise some— perhaps especially those who find abortion shameful in the first place— but it should not be surprising that parents make family planning decisions informed by their parenthood.
Last week, I connected with Kristeena, 36, who lives in McAllen, Texas. She is cisgender, which means her gender identity aligns with the gender she was assigned at birth. She is also a mother of three who has had an abortion. We met at a local smoothie shop to talk about her abortion story.
Kristeena’s oldest child was six months old when she became pregnant for the second time. At the time, only her husband was working; food stamps and Medicaid were necessary to make ends meet. Kristeena decided to seek abortion services, with the wholehearted support of her husband every step of the way. Kristeena explained, “At that time I knew, even if we wanted to continue with the pregnancy, there was no way we could afford another child.”
One caveat to her decision was the Hyde Amendment which was enacted in 1976 to bar the use of federal funds for abortion services, and therefore restricted Medicaid from covering the healthcare Kristeena was seeking.
Nonetheless, Kristeena and her husband were able to pay for Kristeena’s abortion services, and she has no regrets about her decision, commenting, “[my other two children] wouldn’t be here. I may have had another child, but it wouldn’t have been them, and I cannot imagine life without them.” After ending her pregnancy, Kristeena went on to finish nursing school, have two more children, and even spent much of her career managing a reproductive health clinic that provided abortion services.
Today, Kristeena’s parenting life is more about navigating her kids’ schedules and, sometimes, the challenges of being a pro-choice parent. Kristeena says that even when other parents are anti-choice, she is not afraid to share her abortion story. Her concern lies more in her children: “I don’t wanna alienate [anti-choice parents], the same way I don’t want people to stop talking to me or my kids. It’s really for the kids— I don’t want my kids to feel like they lost a friend because of their mom.”
Kristeena’s story underlines what many misunderstand about parents who have had abortions: their children are always at the forefront of any commitment they take on, including their decision to end a pregnancy.
Abortion and the LGBTQ community
Until the last decade, little research existed about the LGBTQ community and abortion in the US. Recent findings support what advocates have emphasized: abortion is also an LGBTQ issue.
For example, since 2013, at least five studies have recorded the same trend of unintended pregnancy for both adults and teens: bisexual and lesbian women and girls* are more likely than their straight peers to become pregnant.
Critical analysis of the data suggests many possible explanations. Perhaps it is the lack of inclusive sex education, or the effects of compulsive heterosexuality, the idea that straight behaviors are the norm and that any other orientation is deviant. After all, this perspective permeates mass media, religion, and government policy.
Issues like increased risk of sexual assault, to elevated proportions of homelessness and poverty, exacerbate these realities. One study found that childhood maltreatment, bullying, and gender nonconformity were risk factors for unintended pregnancy among the lesbian and bisexual girls surveyed. Mental health professionals find that hypersexuality and reckless behavior are often coping mechanisms for those who exemplify these risk factors.
Although all of these explanations hold truth, what many analyses get wrong is that the idea of lesbian women and girls getting pregnant is counterintuitive because same-gender sexual relationships do not result in pregnancy. They can, and they do.
In a society adjusted to the lived realities of the LGBTQ community, it would not be surprising that bisexual, lesbian, and trans people get abortions. And in such a reality where science was not used to justify transphobia, it would be understood that persons of any gender, including men, may seek abortion services.
Joaquin is 30 years old. He grew up in Edinburg, Texas, although he has lived out of state since he graduated college with a degree in Biology. Joaquin is also a transgender man who has had an abortion.
When he was 24, Joaquin had not yet begun his transition to affirm his gender. At the time, he was volunteering with a US-run humanitarian program overseas. One night, he was raped by an acquaintance.
The grave assault resulted in pregnancy and illness, and upon learning he was pregnant, Joaquin immediately knew he wanted an abortion. However, he would learn that although the program he was a part of, which paid meager monthly stipends, was supposed to cover all health-related costs for volunteers, abortion care was excluded without exception.
Joaquin went through great distress finding enough money for his abortion back in the US. Even though Joaquin was eventually able to access safe abortion care, the process to get there was emotionally and physically damaging.
Today, Joaquin is the director of community organizing for a group centered on HIV in the Latino community, and he is in a loving relationship with his boyfriend, who is a cisgender guy. When I spoke to Joaquin over the phone about his abortion story, he noted:
“Society’s pushback against being trans and having abortions are both ultimately about strangers telling us what we can do with our bodies. Both have to do with autonomy.”
Joaquin’s abortion story centers around an assault and a pregnancy that would have been easy to end if abortion were not institutionally stigmatized. But at the polar opposite of the horrific reality of rape is the simple truth that gay, queer, trans, and gender-variant people enter consensual sexual relationships that could result in pregnancy, all the time.
These LGBTQ relationships have always existed. Today’s society just needs to catch up. That means pro-choice and abortion-positive language should always be gender-inclusive and use appropriate identifiers. This may require some creativity to achieve, but ending the conflation of gender and reproductive organs is worth the effort.