In Part 1, MintPress News looked at barriers to abortion access in Texas under the Texas Omnibus Abortion Bill (HB2) and how the pro-abortion rights reproductive justice movement seeks to help Texans.
AUSTIN, Texas — Both sides of the conflict over the Texas Omnibus Abortion Law (HB2) link abortion to issues surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity.
In January 2013, at the beginning of the biennial legislative session, anti-abortion legislators and other groups held an event called the Rally For Life. Attended by thousands, the rally was designed to build support for the passage of HB2. The bill would ultimately fail to pass in that legislative session, requiring Gov. Rick Perry to call two successive special sessions of the Legislature before he could sign it into law.
Perry attended the Rally For Life, along with other members of the state government. Attorney General and current gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott explicitly mentioned his opposition to gay marriage in Texas during his speech.
“I know this session, working together, we’ll be able to cement the fact that Texas is the most pro-family, pro-life, pro-value state in America,” Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst told the crowd, according to the Dallas Morning News.
About a year after the bill finally passed, the Texas Republican Party openly embraced its opposition to gay rights by adopting support for “reparative therapy” in its party platform. This is a discredited form of psychological treatment which proponents claim can change sexual orientation. Supporters of LGBT rights consider reparative therapy inhumane and it is opposed by all major psychiatric associations.
The platform also calls for “total constitutional rights for the unborn child.”
With HB2 recently upheld by the 5th Circuit Court, state Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a gubernatorial debate last month in Dallas, “I am pro-life, and I’m Catholic. Like most Texans, I believe that all life is sacred. As governor, I will develop a culture of life in this state.”
A “culture of life,” he said at the debate, is one that supports the health and safety of both mother and child before and after birth. This is what HB2 is meant to do, he explained, saying, “It also ensures, consistent with constitutional mandates from the United States Supreme Court, that a woman still has five months to make a very difficult decision.”
Since the latest ruling, the number of licensed clinics performing abortions in the state has dropped to eight, from 40 last summer. With these eight clinics all in major cities, and with none in rural areas, questions have been raised about how HB2 protects women’s safety.
“Courts have found that at the federal level of appeals that the Texas law actually does improve women’s health safety and health care,” Abbott said in response to such concerns.
Further, the law has reduced the number of abortions performed legally in the state, according to a study by Texas Policy Evaluation Project at the University of Texas. But Daniel Grossman, one of the report’s authors, cautioned, “There’s no evidence that the safety of abortion has been increased by these restrictions.”
The California-based physician also told the Texas Tribune that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Society opposed the law, noting, “The provisions in this law were not based on any medical evidence.”
Building an intersectional movement
Amid the political storm, pro-abortion rights groups and members of the reproductive justice movement are seeking to make their efforts more inclusive, targeting those they fear feel increasingly marginalized by the passage of laws like HB2.
“We can’t afford not to be intersectional,” Lenzi Sheible told MintPress News. “We can’t afford to center our movement around people that are already privileged. What that does is prevent our movement from reaching those who need our help the most.”
Sheible is the founder of Fund Texas Choice, a nonprofit specializing in helping Texans pay for travel or overcome other barriers to abortion access. Sheible was an organizer of the second Texas Convening, a private conference which brought together representatives of about a dozen organizations providing or supporting abortions in Texas to plan their response to what they consider a serious health crisis resulting from the passage of HB2.
She was also one of the members of Fund Texas Choice who led the August workshop on the language of abortion that forms the basis of this series of articles. One key issue discussed was intersectionality and its importance to reproductive justice. A concept pioneered by feminists like Audre Lorde and bell hooks, it’s the notion that no single issue can be isolated from the network of challenges a person faces due to a range of elements, including race, class, sexual orientation or gender identity.
At the time of the August workshop, Fund Texas Choice was still known by its original name, Fund Texas Women. Later that month, after discussions at Texas Convening, they announced the name change.
From Sheible’s public statement:
“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. Our board has unanimously voted to approve our new name, Fund Texas Choice. Its emphasis on abortion, not on ‘women,’ makes it a more just alternative.”
The use of “trans*” rather than simply transgender emphasizes the full diversity of gender identity, from those who identify as transgender men or transgender women to those who consider themselves genderfluid or genderless. And regardless of their gender identity, biology dictates that many trans* Texans will require access to reproductive health care, which may include abortion access.
Katie Klabusich, a journalist and activist, attended the workshop. MintPress asked her about the importance of inclusive language and intersectionality in her own work.
“The hardest word to take out of my vocabulary, and I still sometimes use it depending on my audience, is ‘women,’” she said. “Because women aren’t the only people who need access to reproductive care. But ‘women’ is in the name of a lot of organizations.”
She continued: “Take care that you’re not specifically excluding people, especially in an area that’s already stigmatized — abortion is a word some people have trouble saying out loud in the first place — that if it’s a person from a marginalized group seeking that medical care, if the word is stigmatized and the procedure is stigmatized, and they’re stigmatized and marginalized, it’s like you’re just compounding how hard it is to get care. And that should never be a thing. Access to health care should be basic.”
Medical care and trans* stigma in Texas
Many of the same politicians and activists who oppose abortion in Texas also oppose rights for trans* people. This reporter observed some of the same anti-abortion activists from the 2013 abortion protests later that year opposing a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender nondiscrimination ordinance in San Antonio. A major argument they used against the bill was its improved protections for trans* people.
And the Dallas Morning News reported on a rally held at the same Republican primary that reaffirmed both the party’s opposition to abortion and support of reparative therapy:
“A video at the marriage rally warned delegates that legalizing homosexual marriage in Massachusetts has led to ‘polygamy being mainstreamed,’ sadomasochism taught in schools and transgender efforts to surgically reassign the sex of children.
‘Is this what you want for Texas?’ said rally organizer Steve Hotze, a Republican activist from Houston.
The delegates shouted, ‘No!’”
“When you think about reproductive justice it should really be about the access that people are given to their own bodies,” said Noreen Khimji. “To the ability to reproduce, to have families, and to live without fear of being killed.”
Khimji (who identifies as genderqueer and prefers to use gender neutral pronouns) is co-founder of Cicada Collective and the North Texas Abortion Support Network. Cicada Collective’s work is centered around facilitating access to abortion and reproductive resources for queer and trans* people of color.
“There’s constantly this issue of erasure, and lack of representation and visibility, and basically a denial of people to actually exist,” Khimji continued. “Being a queer, trans person trying to access medical care is downright dangerous. Also invalidating, especially if you don’t pass in the ways that you’re supposed to. But either queer and trans is something that’s already medicalized as a psychiatric and sometimes a physical disorder. You’re already starting from the perspective that it’s an abnormality when you walk into a medical facility for any sort of care. It shapes everything that you’re doing.”
Khimji explained Cicada Collective’s origins.
“Cicada Collective started in April of 2013. We hoped to be a full spectrum doula collective, which means we would support through all spectrums of the pregnancy. Doula work is typically associated with birth but it has expanded to supporting people through abortion, miscarriage, and adoption as well as birth.”
When HB2 finally passed, the group’s focus shifted somewhat, and it led one of the first abortion doula trainings in the state, as well as the first training that was open to the public. “It was also intentionally very queer- and trans*-centered.”
After HB2’s passage, Khimji and their allies began reaching out to other organizations doing similar support work to form the North Texas Abortion Support Network. This coalition of organizations offers logistical support in the Dallas/Fort Worth area with a hotline available by phone and email.
Khimji explained, “Usually people are referred to us by other organizations like clinics or abortion funds. We’re some of the last details. A lot of times people can’t even commit to making their appointment until they know they can work out where their kids are going to be, where they’re going to stay. That can be expensive. Sometimes you have to stay in town for three to four days. What if you’re bleeding and uncomfortable? What if you don’t have anyone who can stay with you?”
Cicada Collective tries to educate activists, organizations, and medical professionals on how to be queer and trans* inclusive.
“Being inclusive is expanding the already existing work that’s happening that’s centered around cisgendered [non trans*] heterosexual people. We take it a step further where we work with other queer and trans* folk to start new coalitions that are queer- and trans*-centered — meaning by and for queer and trans* people — because we think that’s really different than being inclusive,” Khimji explained.
“That’s not always realistically possible, especially when we’re working with really dire circumstances like we are right now. So we work toward inclusivity with other groups that already exist, but whenever we have the chance we try to push for this new kind of culture shift and growth that allows for queer and trans* people to actually be centered in the work they’re doing, and to be representing themselves and serving their own communities — and especially queer and trans* people of color.”
Even work with other reproductive justice and pro-abortion rights groups carries the risk of feeling like a “token” of diversity. Khimji sent a written statement after our phone interview, which read, in part:
“It’s exhausting to have to constantly hold space for your own and your communities’ existence, to be one of the only people in the room constantly bringing that perspective back into the conversation […] but it’s also exhausting when people who hold a lot of privilege over those communities (sometimes so-called ‘allies’) only bring up this perspective when it becomes beneficial for their publicity.”
This work is being done on a national as well as at the local level. As more laws like HB2 pass, pro-abortion rights activists stress that the need for intersectionality grows. Sistersong’s Monica Simpson expressed many similar concerns in a recent open letter to Planned Parenthood Federation of America — and Planned Parenthood was quick to acknowledge the validity of those concerns in a response penned by Cecile Richards, the federation’s president.
Compassion and hope
Fund Texas Choice’s Sheible emphasized that compassion is more important than politics among the Texans seeking reproductive justice. Fund Texas Choice volunteers talk to people when they’re at their most vulnerable, and volunteers must be careful not to force the needy to politicize what she believes should simply be a medical choice.
“Not everyone who’s seeking an abortion feels very political about it. In fact, I might go out on a limb and say most people don’t. I don’t want my messaging to scare people away who are not interested in a political stance, I want to enable people who simply need our services,” said Sheible.
“I’ve never really been behind the pro-choice and pro-life movements because I feel like these really dichotomously opposed categories limit the ways people actually feel about their abortions,” Khimji said. “It really politicizes abortion in a way that takes away from someone and their body.”
“If you’re working in reproductive justice, it can’t really be about a political system but about respecting people’s bodies.”