Friday, anti-abortion advocates descended up Washington, DC to protest the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court to decriminalize abortion. While the ruling itself does not attempt to define when life begins, it does ensure that woman has a legal entitlement until the fetus is “viable,” or is able to live outside of the womb without the assistance of life support. Abortion opponents—male and female, feminist and not—are steadfast in the opinion that life begins at conception and that abortion constitutes murder under most circumstances, even when carrying a pregnancy to term can threaten the life of the mother, according to some.
Despite its opposition, the right to safe an legal abortion is considered to be an inexorable link to women's health and reproductive rights. Although the abortion debate is typical framed by religious vs secular ideology, as outspoken religious and political figures such as Rick Santorum and Pope Benedict XVI stood in solidarity with anti-abortion advocates, not all persons of faith are in agreement at what point life begins or that abortion inherently violates religious principle. Founded in 2001, the Religious Institute is an interfaith organization which advocates for “sexual health, education, and justice in faith communities and society.” It is also fully inclusive of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Various clergy have affirmed the right to safe and legal abortion and in an open letter, make a compelling argument for abortion as a moral decision.
While the abortion debate is also framed as a women's rights issue, it also has serious implications for transgender and transsexual men's health care. Trans men are anatomically female and are assigned so at birth, but develop a male gender identity and may choose to adopt a male gender presentation. If a trans man experiences significant gender dysphoria, they may also choose to undergo sex reassignment surgery (SRS), including hormone replacement therapy, hysterectomy and genital reconstruction (specifically, a phalloplasty). However, due to the fact that the aforementioned procedures are often not covered by medical insurance, many trans men seeking gender reassignment are unable to pay the out-of-pocket expense. In contrast, some simply do not wish to have a hysterectomy or undergo genital reconstruction. Whether they are pre-operative as a matter of circumstance or as a matter of choice, access to legal abortion and reproductive rights as a whole are as vital to transgender and transsexual men as they are to cisgender women. Pre-operative trans men who have sex with men are just as likely to have an unplanned pregnancy as heterosexual and bisexual women. As with cisgender women, an unwanted pregnancy may also occur if they are the victim of a rape. Even in situations where a trans man way wish to carry a pregnancy to term, medical complications during pregnancy can ultimately require termination. In our discussions of reproductive rights, it is important not to leave the transgender and transsexual community out of the conversation.