On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court overturned Roe. v. Wade, the landmark case in 1973 that ruled to affirm the constitutional right to an abortion. Months later we are still reckoning with this decision while the consequences of what this will mean for many marginalized people still hangs in the air. We spoke with Erin Smith and Oliver Hall from the Kentucky Health Justice Network about how this will affect the queer and trans community specifically.
“It’s been an interesting chain of events, and one thing I’ve noticed is that policy is very much developed around very cis-herteronormative language and ideas, so it is automatically non-inclusive of anyone who is trans or nonbinary- and if I’m being completely honest, I could easily say when most of the legislation is made, they aren’t thinking of Black or brown folks either,” said Erin. Even though Erin runs the Kentucky Health Justice Network, they often feel left out of the conversation. They have been given a “seat at the table” to help defend Kentuckians, but they are often not included because of the woman-only language often used in discussion of reproductive rights.
According to Oliver, creating barriers to abortions is even harder on the trans community because of the barriers they already face to basic healthcare. “We are not represented on intake forms, we are not represented in medical school curriculums or insurance policies…we are not being thought of.” Trans individuals already face higher levels of poverty and unemployment, lack of insurance and transportation, making it more difficult to get to appointments. Gestational limits also disproportionately affect trans people, who may lack funds for pregnancy tests and are often misinformed about the risks of pregnancy while on HRT. “A lot of us have been led to believe if you are on testosterone for long enough, your risk of getting pregnant is very, very low. I was looking at a study that said 20% of trans people on testosterone got pregnant while they were not having a menstrual period- 20% is not a low percentage to me.”
Other barriers to care that trans people face include state-mandated counseling and waiting periods that prevent individuals from receiving care in a timely manner. The medical field’s overwhelming incompetency with regard to trans health makes trans people wary of seeking medical care. Ultrasounds and cervical cancer screenings can be especially triggering for trans-masculine people who experience reproductive organ dysphoria. In Kentucky especially, queer people in rural communities lack support networks and access to resources and transportation. And trans youth face their own set of barriers.
So how are queer Kentuckians feeling in the wake of Roe v Wade being overturned? More than anything, exhausted. “I am black, I am nonbinary, I am queer. I am masc presently, I have a different reaction to things,” says Erin. “Even for people who have been here since day one, people who have been following the process, it is not surprising, but it still hurts.. It’s hurting for the present and hurts for the future of Kentuckians. I can’t be shocked by anything because being a black person in this country is already difficult. There are very few things in marginalized communities that they are like ‘wow, we’ve never seen this before’ because we’ve seen it since the abolishment of slavery, since a failed reconstruction, since Jim Crow, since every single movement- race has played a part in it. So we are not shocked, we are just hurt, that we are still continuing to not be heard.”
Oliver echoed many of those sentiments, remarking that 2022 has been one of the worst years in terms of anti-trans legislation in almost every state across the country. “A lot of us have been there to watch it happen. And coming back after the Frankfort session about the anti-trans sports bill and having to have these conversations about reproductive rights that don’t include me… it’s really piling on. I was not willing to undergo an invasive ultrasound and go to a women’s clinic, I had to manage my own abortion. Having to do these things is incredibly exhausting and we shouldn’t have to” Oliver stated.
Supporters of the abortion ban are not the queer community’s only antagonists. “There are still a lot of people in the [pro choice] work that are transphobic, who are racist, and it becomes more apparent as we do this work in Southern states” said Erin. They talked about how hard it was to testify in Frankfort while people repeatedly misgendered them. “To be called woman, to hear woman-only language… you can’t say anything because as soon as you do, you trigger the transphobia in the room. Not only am I Black, I am advocating for trans folks as well. There’s already such a deaf ear and, in some cases, very hostile to the point where it’s like, I need to keep my mouth shut to not put myself in danger, or put someone else in danger, and I still need to get home at the end of the day. Respect is hard to come by now.”
“Just leaving” isn’t an option for many queer folks. Moving is costly, and with a national housing shortage on the rise, moving out of state can be nearly impossible. Besides, says Erin, “wars are not won by constantly retreating. Someone has to stay and fight, and I will fight for my home. I will fight for future generations. I would love to raise my kids here.”
Of course, there are ways to self manage an abortion, and thankfully the methods of doing so have evolved, and grown safer and more sophisticated. It is worth noting that the health risks from pregnancy itself are much greater than the risks from an abortion. The mortality rate around pregnancy is now higher than it was when the original case was heard in 1973, and the risks are even greater for POC. If the only way out of a high-risk pregnancy is through illegal means, the individual has to weigh the health risks against the legal risks: to decide whether to risk their life, or risk going to jail.
Given the current state of affairs, it’s easy to lose hope. But we can’t let ourselves. We have to do everything in our power to take back our right to bodily autonomy, our right to decide what happens to and with our bodies. According to Erin, that all starts with education. “Abortion rights is a fight for bodily automony. It’s a fight for healthcare. That is the language that needs to be used. You cannot talk about one without talking about the other.” Part of the problem is that we lack a state wide sex education program that is queer-affirming. Another part of the problem is the lack of sensitivity training for medical professionals and staff. One bad experience with a doctor or desk person can lead someone to put their health in jeopardy just to avoid it happening again.
“This is why community care is so important,” says Oliver. “People have to take care of people. We have to be open to different thoughts, opinions, backgrounds, and ways of living. How can we show up for people and make sure they have the same access and support in rural Kentucky that I do in Louisville?”
One of the ways we can help is by supporting our local networks: Kentucky Health Network, QueerKentucky, and Protect Kentucky Access just to name a few. Nationally, Sister Song Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective is a great group to support, as well as Repro Action. The Kentucky Health Network isn’t going anywhere. Their abortion hotline is still open, and they will continue to fight for reproductive justice. “Nothing is going to stop us from our mission in Kentucky. We are going to go what we have to do, and if that means getting people to other states for abortion access, that’s what we are going to do. We are committed to the people in the state of Kentucky and we will continue to serve the people of Kentucky.”
Until the right to abortion is guaranteed to all Americans, we must continue fighting. Erin says, “it is seen as a very violent action which is just not true. It is a false narrative that has gained momentum, leading to fear tactics that are affection laws. They are coming for individuals. Fighting gets hard because of the burnout, the exhaustion. We are tired. We are doing our best to hang on, but we need more allies. We need more people to say something, and put in the same level of work.” So this is our call to action. Whether we are directly impacted or not, we know that none of us are free until all of us are free. Here are three simple actions you can take today:
Make sure you are registered to vote in the midterms, and make sure to VOTE NO ON AMENDMENT 2.
Donate to KHJN’s abortion access support fund.
Sign this petition to make Louisville a sanctuary city for abortion access.