The End of Roe and the Assault on Trans People — Fail to See the Bigger Picture and We’ll Never Be Free

Portland March for Reproductive Rights; October 2nd 2021. Image: Sabrina Gröschke/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In March, the State of Texas sent investigators to Amber and Adam Briggle’s home, saying they abused their trans son because they provided him gender-affirming care. In April, Texas police arrested Lizelle Herrera and charged her with murder for an alleged “self-induced-abortion.” These violations are part of the same story: An effort by white evangelical Christians to fashion their articles of faith into law. This week’s leaked Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is grotesque and violent, but it’s also part of a broader campaign to deny people’s right to bodily autonomy. Until we fully grapple with that truth, we both badly underestimate the danger and inhibit the radical solidarity that will get us free.

Gender and reproductive healthcare are intimate and complex. They’re a potent mixture of innate biology, psychological development, and spiritual discernment—as unique as the people shaped by them. A trans man who seeks an abortion because he and his partner aren’t ready to have children; a woman who gets one after she was raped; a child who feels intense gender dysphoria as she’s approaching puberty; a working mother who seeks an abortion because her family is as full as she can afford—each deserves specific and nuanced care that honors their particular needs. One need they hold in common: for the government to stay the hell out of what happens to their bodies.

Instead, white evangelicals have orchestrated a decades-long attempt to legislate their religious beliefs—turning people’s personhood into a battleground for political warfare. They can try to cloak dogma in claims of universal morality or appeals to 17th century English law, but these are specific faith claims they’re attempting to force onto the rest of the country through fascist violence. The only way to implement the social control they’re planning is through massive expansion of the carceral system, and government invasion into the most private details of people’s lives. All to satisfy fundamentalist beliefs: The conviction that life begins at birth isn’t scientific, it’s religious. And legislation targeting trans kids isn’t grounded in any genuine concern for their safety—the American Academy of Pediatrics overwhelmingly agrees gender-affirming care is crucial for children’s health—it’s a doctrinal claim about what makes someone a boy or a girl.

We’re fools if we think they’re going to stop at Roe. The people who organized and fought for this historic reversal in our fundamental rights will only be content if the entire country follows their own twisted theology. Marriage equality is in grave danger. Loving parents will be charged as abusers. Women will be forced to bear children they do not want. And every miscarriage will become a potential murder investigation. All of this tramples every person’s religious liberty to discern their gender and whether they wish to bring new life into the world. 

Moreover, the history of this country should make us incredibly alarmed by any attempt to wield state power over people’s bodies. From millions of Black women who were legally raped and made to bear children against their will during the slavery era, to the hundreds of thousands of Puerto Rican women who were forcibly sterilized, America has repeatedly demonstrated the savage violence of which it is capable.

But this moment’s wide-ranging threat also points to our deepest promise: We’re all in the same fight together. Jewish people whose religious traditions enshrine abortion rights in thousands of years of halachic tradition; trans siblings and all the people who love them; queer atheists in same-sex marriages; Christians who believe every gender expression is created in the imago dei; disabled people still denied bodily autonomy; the poor folks and Black folks who always suffer most acutely; every person who believes they should control what happens to their uterus: We may face different challenges, but they stem from the same evil corrupting our public life. And none of us will win the freedoms we deserve unless we do it together.

Liberation is collective. This means that no person is free while their neighbor is shackled, but it also means that we will never break these chains without a universal and reflexive commitment to one another’s thriving. Abortion rights and gender care help people achieve the fullness of who they know they’re called to be. And we don’t need to choose and prioritize whose freedoms matter most—that’s a lie to make us fight among ourselves instead of seizing the power we could wield.

When Lizelle Herrera was held on $500,000 bail, it was the Frontera Fund—a Rio Grande Valley grassroots reproductive rights advocacy organization—that organized a crowd to gather at the jail and pressure the DA into dropping the charges. Now and always, it’s communal bonds of solidarity that keep us safe. But Amber and Adam Briggle’s crisis shows the limits of what individual people and communities can do to fight structural violence. Speaking to PBS, Adam Briggle contemplated fleeing the state. “If we have to become political refugees in our own country, then that’s what we do,” he said, “But I don’t know where it’s safe.”

It’s time for our elected officials—Democrats and Republicans—to fulfill their responsibilities in Washington and immediately codify abortion rights and the Equality Act as federal law. There must be a clear and unequivocal message: People’s bodily autonomy is not up for political debate. These laws violate millions of Americans’ religious liberty, international human rights treaties, and basic human decency. We will not cower before fundamentalists. And we will unite in fierce love to ensure they do not determine our future.