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'It's already having an impact': LGBTQ people fear abortion rights reversal

Some LGBTQ people fear the reversal of abortion rights protections would have far-reaching impacts — both on their health and other rights such as marriage equality.
Image:  A supporter of gay marriage waves a flag in front of the Supreme Court Building June 25, 2015.
A supporter of gay marriage waves a flag in front of the Supreme Court Building June 25, 2015.Mark Wilson / Getty Images file

Josiah Ramos, a Black transgender man, said he fears that a Supreme Court opinion that would overturn longstanding precedent protecting access to abortion would have a greater effect on transgender and nonbinary people, who already face barriers to care.

Josiah Ramos.
Josiah Ramos.Courtesy Josiah Ramos

“We all should have the right to decide what we want to do with our bodies,” said Ramos, 23, who is also the co-director of Black Trans Blessings, a trans-led organization in New York City. 

“I’m not ready to have a kid,” he added. “So if I, God forbid, was to get pregnant, and I wanted to have an abortion, you’re basically trying to strip my right … and that’s not fair.” 

On Monday evening, Politico reported that a draft majority opinion authored by Justice Samuel Alito showed that the court had voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision protecting abortion access, and another similar decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed the authenticity of the draft in a statement Tuesday.

The opinion, which is not yet final, would give states the ability to regulate or ban abortion. If Roe is overturned, 23 states would institute bans, according to an NBC News analysis of Center for Reproductive Rights data. Thirteen states have so-called trigger bans, which would ban the procedure as soon as the precedent is struck down. 

The opinion could change over the next two months before it is officially released, but LGBTQ people and advocates fear the consequences it could have. Advocates say that LGBTQ people are already disproportionately affected by restrictions on abortion due to higher rates of medical discrimination and poverty. 

Some LGBTQ people also fear the impacts that the decision could have on other rulings related to LGBTQ rights, such as Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015, and Lawrence v. Texas, which found state laws criminalizing consensual same-sex activity unconstitutional in 2003.

Paige Alexandria, a queer woman living in Austin who had an abortion when she was 25, said queer and trans people will be among the first impacted by the Supreme Court opinion should it become the law of the land.

Now 31, she is a board member for The Lilith Fund, an abortion fund in Texas, and she said that “when Roe falls,” some people will be able to travel out of state to get abortions when they need them. 

“But for those who are unable to secure the financial and logistical resources they need — they’ll be forced to continue pregnancies they aren’t ready for,” she said.

Several studies also suggest that LGBTQ people would be disproportionately affected by restrictions on abortion. 

A 2019 study found that all sexual minority groups who can become pregnant — except lesbians —  are more likely than their straight counterparts to experience an unintended pregnancy, a teen pregnancy or to have had an abortion. Bisexual women were three times as likely to have had an abortion than heterosexuals.

Another 2019 study of trans, nonbinary and gender-diverse people found that 36 percent of respondents considered trying to end a pregnancy on their own, without clinical supervision. The study said this “could reflect formidable barriers to facility-based abortion care as well as a strong desire for privacy and autonomy in the abortion process,” and that efforts are needed to connect trans people “with information on safe and effective methods of self-managed abortion and to dismantle barriers to clinical abortion care… .” 

Ramos said he’s worried that the language people are using to talk about the opinion — describing abortion as a “women’s issue” — will further exacerbate medical transphobia. 

“It’s already having an impact,” Ramos said. “A lot of people don’t know that men can get pregnant and nonbinary folks…. The biggest thing is we’re being ostracized because we’re not coming up in conversation.”

Barbie Hurtado, a volunteer at Planned Parenthood in Texas and a reproductive justice advocate, said that Roe being overturned would also have an effect on transgender and nonbinary people seeking transition-related services, because some Planned Parenthood clinics and independent abortion clinics provide care like hormone therapy. 

“So if the abortion clinics are closing, that means trans folks cannot access that care either,” Hurtado, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, said. They added that trans people receive other care at abortion clinics, such as pap tests and cervical cancer and breast cancer screenings, but if abortion clinics shutter, there will be fewer places where they feel safe receiving that care.

Some legal experts are afraid of how the decision could be used in states that are in the middle of legal battles over laws that ban gender-affirming care for trans minors. In July, a judge in Arkansas blocked a law banning gender-affirming health care for minors pending the outcome of a lawsuit, and civil rights groups have sued to stop a similar law in Alabama. 

Anthony Michael Kreis, assistant professor of law at Georgia State University, said that there’s a affinity between abortion and gender-affirming care. 

“They’re both issues of bodily autonomy, they’re both medical decisions and they are deeply personal decisions,” he said. “And so the right to privacy should cover both of them. If the right to privacy is eroded, and Roe is one piece in the jurisprudential puzzle that’s taken out, that’s one less significant and weighty precedent that weighs in favor of trans rights and the right to health care, the right to gender expression.” 

He said the right to privacy is like an umbrella that covers a variety of other rights in addition to abortion, such as the right to access contraception, the right to engage in same-sex sexual intimacy and the right to marry. 

“The court is like a half-step away from eating away at these other rights,” he said. Though he’s hesitant to say that LGBTQ rights are on the chopping block as a result of overturning major abortion rights precedents, he said the foundation is “weakened.” 

Josh Roth and Andy Fontaine.
Josh Roth and Andy Fontaine.Courtesy Josh Roth

The threat of the leaked opinion eroding marriage equality has some queer couples scrambling to figure out how it will affect their weddings and family plans. Josh Roth, who lives in Orlando, Florida, and fundraises for political advocacy group LGBTQ Victory Fund, said he and his fiance planned to get married in February. But now they’re wondering if they’ll have to get legally married sooner.

“We know we’re not in a friendly state for us, so the concern is, do we get married now and just hope that maybe all marriages that were before a certain ruling date happens are just still honored in the future?” Roth said. “And I think that one of the worst parts for us is why? Why, because of who I love, do I have to have these worries, and other people don’t?”

Legal experts don’t think the undoing of marriage equality is imminent, though. Mary Bonauto, who argued on behalf of same-sex couples in Obergefell and serves as the civil rights project director at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, or GLAD, said advocates know that anti-LGBTQ groups are “trying to put us back on our heels,” and roll back LGBTQ rights. 

She noted that Alito has been vocal in his opinion that Obergefell should be overturned. In 2020, he and Justice Clarence Thomas both signaled that they would be open to reversing it.

“Certainly, Lawrence and Obergefell remain targets,” she said, referring also to the decision that struck down laws criminalizing same-sex sexual activity. But, she said that if those precedents are challenged, she thinks LGBTQ advocates would prevail. “It’d be outrageous to reverse either of those, because they are constitutionally correct,” she said. “They are good for people, they’re good for kids and families, and they are an example of getting the government out of how you live your life.”

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