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Celebrating Roe v. Wade as Queer and Transgender People

Posted by Owen Smith at Jan 28, 2016 07:00 PM |

January 22 marked the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in the United States. Yet as we celebrate this day, I can’t help thinking of the women and transgender people who do not have access to the reproductive health care that this decision was intended to secure.

Celebrating Roe v. Wade as Queer and Transgender People

Transgender Pride March, Portland, OR. 2015.

January 22 marked the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in the United States. This historic decision supported the right of self-determination for women and transgender people who can become pregnant, brought abortion out of the back alley, and represented a significant milestone in the fight for all people’s access to the care and resources they need to thrive.

Yet as we celebrate this day, I can’t help thinking of the women and transgender people who do not have access to the reproductive health care that this decision was intended to secure. The Hyde Amendment, first passed by Congress in 1976, denies Medicaid coverage of abortion. This measure, and others like it that restrict federal dollars from covering abortion, is renewed in the federal budget every year. While we are lucky that in our state, courts have reaffirmed that everyone who qualifies for Oregon Health Plan has insurance coverage for abortion care if they need it, there are many across the country who live in states that do withhold these benefits.

These federal bans still impact people in Multnomah County and across Oregon who utilize federal insurance programs, like federal employees, veterans and members of the armed services, and people who qualify for the Indian Health Service and Medicare. What’s more, the Hyde Amendment is just one of a long list of policies and practices at the federal, state and local level that prevent people from making healthy decisions about when and whether to parent for themselves and their families.

Stigma and misinformation surrounding cruel policies like these  lead many more to believe that insurance won’t cover this essential aspect of reproductive health care, even in states where it does.

Many of us in the queer and transgender community in Multnomah County know all too well the harmful effects of a lack of comprehensive reproductive health education and quality care. We face a staggering lack of provider education on queer and transgender health needs. We confront prejudice and stigma from those charged with providing care to us. Queer and transgender people of color are also more likely to be low-income and to face sexual and interpersonal violence. Restrictions on insurance coverage of abortion care and other crucial reproductive health needs only further disenfranchise an already-marginalized community. As Senator Hyde, when he first proposed the Hyde Amendment, famously said, “I would certainly like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion: a rich woman, a middle class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the [Medicaid] bill.”

Make no mistake: this policy was designed to directly impact our communities, and we must fight back.

As a transgender person, who often passes as white, I have my own experiences encountering barriers to care within our medical systems. As an advocate working across the state of Oregon with the We Are BRAVE network through Western States Center, I have earned even greater insight into the barriers faced by other queer and transgender people of color seeking care. Through the years, I have heard devastating stories from our community members in Multnomah County and across the state about the inadequate reproductive health care they are often provided.

Take Grey, a self-identified transgender Afro-Latino gay man, who recently tried to access abortion care in Portland. Like many transgender people needing an abortion, Grey encountered enormous challenges. Facing an unintended pregnancy after his doctor insisted he could not conceive and therefore did not need contraception, Grey was coldly asked to leave the clinic when he asked for information on termination. Anxious and confused, Grey and his husband had to navigate a system that is not set up to address the specific reproductive health care needs of transgender persons. Unfortunately, I am learning that Grey's story is an all too common one.

Another story comes from Kara, a BRAVE leader from Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, who faced delayed diagnosis and treatment for a sexually transmitted infection because her provider was unaware of how queer bodies have sex and what our risk factors are. This lack of knowledge is not only dangerous, it’s unjust.

All LGBTQ people, young and old, should have affordable access to the full range of reproductive health care services from knowledgeable providers, without stigma, shame or silence.  We face enough barriers to access without politicians withholding insurance coverage for abortion. Until the Hyde Amendment is repealed nationally and we take measures in Oregon to ensure all communities have more comprehensive access, essential parts of reproductive health care will remain out of reach for too many in our community. This year, let’s reclaim Roe for those affected by harmful bans on abortion coverage. Let’s honor this historic anniversary by advocating for secure, affordable, comprehensive and accessible reproductive care for all.

 

Owen Smith is Capacity Building Manager with Western States Center, whose mission is to build the power of community organizations to challenge and transform individuals, organizations and systems to achieve racial, gender, and economic justice. 

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