While Katha Pollitt is a fierce advocate for abortion rights, she missed the mark in her column “Who Has Abortions?” [posted online, March 13]. The article, which discusses abortion funds’ shift away from talking about “women” in favor of referring to “people who have abortions,” is a fearmongering and unsubstantiated piece about how this change erases women from the abortion-rights movement.
I serve on the board of the New York Abortion Access Fund (NYAAF), one of the funds featured in Pollitt’s article. I am also the executive director of Third Wave Fund, a feminist, activist foundation. I believe language that doesn’t equate abortion with women increases accessibility of services for trans and gender-nonconforming (TGNC) people, who, because of discrimination at clinics and because these clients are disproportionately low-income, homeless, and uninsured, face significant barriers to care.
In this article, Pollitt minimizes, demonizes, and pokes fun at trans people—while claiming the moral high ground. She invented the statistic that TGNC people have only .001 percent of abortions, and uses testimony from clinic staff to further emphasize how few TGNC people need access to abortion services. But based on this shaky reporting, Pollitt argues that because TGNC people are an insignificant footnote in the history of abortion, this linguistic shift has no purpose other than to erase women.
Pollitt’s article follows an insidious pattern in the history of mainstream feminism. She sets up an ultimatum: that to address privilege in the movement threatens women and therefore strengthens patriarchy. This approach silences and marginalizes feminists with the least power. Pollitt co-opts the narrative of “being erased” from those who actually are erased from the movement—women of color, trans people, poor women, etc.—while using her relative power in the movement to be a gatekeeper of abortion discourse. She depicts TGNC people as nuisances who complicate the abortion-rights message. Eventually, she ceases to make moral arguments and rests on the threat of losing the rallying power of abortion slogans. Slogans are not a reason to abandon a community that is literally dying from a lack of visibility, healthcare access, and solidarity.
It has always been true that inclusion makes our movement stronger, not weaker. What we might lose in slogans, we make up for with integrity.