In 1989, I was part of the March for Women’s Lives in Washington, DC, as abortion rights were at risk of being overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
I was still recently out as a lesbian, with no thoughts of parenthood yet on my mind, but the idea of the government forcing people to carry unwanted or life-risking pregnancies was as anathema to me as their telling me who to love.
Fast forward more than a decade, and my partner (now spouse) and I started our family through assisted reproduction. This deliberate choice to become a parent, and parenthood itself, with its challenges as well as joys, only reinforced my belief that pregnancy should always be a choice — and terminating one a choice to be made between the pregnant person and doctor, not the government. Now, with reproductive rights again under threat at the U.S. Supreme Court, I still feel that protecting those rights is as important as any other LGBT advocacy work.
Queer people can and do have sex that can lead to pregnancy. For bisexual people, trans and non-binary people with partners whom they can be fertile with, questioning people, and others who choose for whatever reason to have intercourse that could result in a pregnancy — access to abortion is a necessary part of controlling our bodies and our lives. Even with birth control, accidents happen; there may be medical reasons for terminating a pregnancy, and anyone with a uterus is still at risk of pregnancy from rape.
If the right to abortion is overturned, people will still seek them. Those with more financial means will be more likely to have them safely; the risk of injury and death from illegal abortions will fall most heavily on marginalized communities. (This is why we must speak not only of abortion rights but of abortion access.) Others will carry unwanted pregnancies to term, leading to people who are too young to parent or not in positions to do so well, placing more families below the poverty line as they struggle to support more kids, burdening our already overburdened adoption system, and upending individual lives and plans that did not include a child (or another one). Every child should be a wanted child.
If abortion rights are overturned, there could also be implications for assisted reproduction. RESOLVE: the National Infertility Association explains on its website that in states that define life as beginning at conception, “Anything that puts an embryo at risk could be a violation of law.” This would lead to worrying legal questions like "Do all embryos have to be transferred after fertilization? If they are frozen for later, who is liable for ones lost in the freezing/thawing process?" and more. Some medical practices may then decide not to take the legal risk of offering such services. As of this writing, these are open questions, but certainly worrying ones.
Access to abortion is not just about pregnancy, either, but about the broader issues of personal and body autonomy, which lie at the very heart of queer rights. Many people have speculated that overturning abortion rights could lead to the overturning of the rights enshrined in the key U.S. Supreme Court decisions Lawrence v. Texas (the right of consenting adults to engage in private sexual acts) and Obergefell v. Hodges (marriage equality). Here’s how. In the draft U.S. Supreme Court memo that leaked in early May, Justice Samuel Alito says that the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment “has been held to guarantee some rights that are not mentioned in the Constitution, but any such right must be ‘deeply rooted in this nation’s history and tradition’ and ‘implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.'” Abortion, he says, does not fall into this category.
Later, Alito said that those in favor of abortion access should not lean on Lawrence and Obergefell as precedent for a “broader right to autonomy” and thus to abortion. He explains that none of the rights that Lawrence or Obergefell enshrine “has any claim to being deeply rooted in history.”
That seems to imply that the rights affirmed by Lawrence and Obergefell, too, could be at risk. Alito later seems to walk this back a bit, noting that Roe said, “abortion is ‘inherently different from marital intimacy,’ ‘marriage,’ or ‘procreation’,” and adding, “We emphasize that our decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right. Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.”
I somehow don’t think that the right-wing groups pushing to overturn Roe are going to follow his advice in that last sentence. Many of these groups are the same ones that have long opposed LGBT equality and are now ramping up anti-trans legislation — legislation that threatens trans youths’ body autonomy, as Texas, Alabama, and other states try to prevent them from accessing medically proven, gender-affirming health care, even with parental permission. If these groups can make a crack in the idea of autonomy in one area, you can bet they’ll try to extend it further.
For all these reasons and more, reproductive rights are queer rights. Queer people are not “allied” with the reproductive rights movement; we are part of it. And we must work as hard as we ever have on any part of LGBT equality to ensure that these rights remain with us.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory, with a searchable database of 900+ LGBTQ family books, media, and more.