Guest Essays, Letters to the Editor, Opinion

Guest essay: Achieving abortion justice, trans liberation in W.Va.

by Ash Orr

On June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization upheld a Mississippi law imposing a ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. This decision effectively overturned the precedents set by Roe v. Wade in 1973 and Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, signaling a significant shift in the legal protection of abortion rights. The immediate consequences of this ruling were felt nationwide, with 21 states quickly adopting either full abortion bans or stringent restrictions on the procedure.

In West Virginia, a near-total abortion ban was passed on Sept. 13, 2022, and signed into law four days later, despite weeklong protests. West Virginia’s ban allows exceptions for medical emergencies and for victims of rape and incest until eight weeks of pregnancy for adults and 14 weeks for minors. These victims are required to report their assault to law enforcement at least 48 hours prior to the procedure. Minors can report to the police or a doctor, who must inform authorities.

The law mandates abortions must be performed by a licensed physician within a hospital setting. At least two Republican legislators have openly acknowledged this measure was designed to shutter the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia, which had been our state’s lone abortion provider for nearly five decades.

The abortion justice movement is incredibly intersectional, but most notably related to the bodily autonomy of all people — because cisgender women aren’t the only abortion seekers. The repercussions of the Dobbs ruling have infringed on the rights of the trans community.

When Roe was overturned, we saw a sweeping surge in the enactment of anti-trans legislation in 2022, with a historic number of bills passing. These measures included barriers to participating in sports, restrictions on amending birth certificates and bans on gender-affirming care. In 2023, legislative efforts targeting LGBTQI+ communities intensified, with over 500 bills introduced, 400 specifically targeting trans people. Since last June, 20 states, including West Virginia, have passed bans on gender-affirming care for trans youth, often resorting to criminalization of doctors and professionals who provide such care.

Both anti-abortion and anti-trans legislation reflect the political ideologies of extremist lawmakers over the guidance of medical experts and the lived experiences of those affected. The right to bodily autonomy is a fundamental human right, and making choices about one’s health care is an assertion of human dignity.

Trans individuals have long advocated for their right to bodily autonomy, yet our voices are often excluded. Ensuring everyone is free to choose for their own bodies is a crucial part of the reproductive justice and trans liberation framework. The same extremist politicians and organizations working to limit abortion access in Appalachia are also attempting to curtail gender-affirming care and reproductive rights for trans individuals. Trans individuals often encounter challenges and discrimination in traditional settings health care settings, making reproductive health clinics their primary option for medical services.

To achieve true reproductive justice and trans liberation in West Virginia, it is essential to have a better understanding of the experiences and obstacles faced by trans people. We must move away from restrictive binary thinking about reproductive health. Abortion should be free of stigma and financial and logistical barriers. This also includes providing trans people with access to abortion services and gender-affirming care.

Changing the conversation and improving our overall understanding of the connection between abortion justice and trans liberation can begin with altering how we talk about abortion and trans rights. This involves using inclusive language that highlights diverse experiences. However, it’s equally important that we move beyond working in isolation and instead build a united movement that involves all-encompassing strategies.

Our strength lies in our unity, and together we can work to amplify the voices of those who have been marginalized and forgotten. Our government thrives on power that maintains patriarchy and division, so we must unite as a community to fight against the oppressive system, assert the right to self-determination and bodily autonomy, and embrace the authentic joy we deserve.

Ash Orr (they/he) is a trans nonbinary abortion patient and National Storyteller for Planned Parenthood.