As a white middle-class gay man growing up in West Virginia, I never felt like the topic of abortion applied to me. Why should it? I was not going to need one, nor was my partner. I never learned about it in my high school curriculum, and it was seldom mentioned in college outside of vague references to Roe v. Wade in my political science or women’s studies electives. While I consider myself pro-choice, I never felt that I had any stake in the framework of reproductive rights or justice.
I remember sitting in my small college apartment while I cheered on the livestream of Wendy Davis’ filibuster in Texas in 2013, and I remember passing by the news coverage for the historic Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt Supreme Court decision in 2016. Yet, again, I never felt that these changes within the landscape of access to safe, affordable abortion hit home. I have come to realize that feeling comfortable and complacent with my own life is not an excuse for staying quiet, and doing the bare minimum is not the same as being an ally.
Sixteen years ago this month, I started the process of coming out to my friends. My allies. My friends, all women, accepted me without question. Living in a small rural town in West Virginia, the stigma associated with being a gay man had often felt like an unbearable burden: the fear of how my family, friends, teachers, or pastor may react, and the potential shame that could follow. The fear of judgment followed me around for some time. Instead of owning something, I felt forced to keep this secret, as if being myself or living my truth was wrong. Thankfully, I was always able to fall back on my friends and allies for support.
The stigma and shame that was forced upon me as a teenager is much like the stigma and shame that is unjustly forced upon people that have had an abortion. The fear of judgment from those closest to you, the condemnation that comes from the public who have differing ideological views, and, in some cases, the deeply personal attempt to reconcile between what is best for you and what your religious or political affiliation says is wrong.
Roe is gone. The chaos is just beginning.
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When I think back to the individuals who have spewed inflammatory, anti-gay hate at me, I find comfort in knowing that their impact is minimal. However, that is no longer the case for those seeking abortion care in the South and Midwest. Since last September, abortion procedures after six weeks have been banned in Texas (when many don’t even know they’re pregnant), and protesters have been emboldened with unchecked powers. Texas SB 8 continues to allow anyone who aids in the abortion process after six weeks, before many even know they’re pregnant, to be sued: providers, physicians, nurses, clergy-people, even the person who drives you to the clinic.
Worst of all, the person suing you could be anyone on the street—anyone who suspects you of breaking the law.
Over the past two years of working at Whole Woman’s Health, an independent abortion provider, I have come to see the role that abortion care plays in our communities. With nine clinics around the country and a virtual care program that serves five states and counting by offering abortion pills by mail, every community that we live, work, serve in is unique. Their demographics, geography, culture, and the barriers they can face to get abortion care are all different. We saw firsthand the issues that SB 8 caused in Texas and the upheaval it caused for those having to find the means to seek care out of state, and the surge and exhausting wait times that people are still experiencing.
Let me be clear: Abortion is not an abstract idea. When you hear about a ban, restriction, or law in place to stop abortion, you are talking about actual human beings being forced to travel thousands of miles to make a choice about their own health care. Working in this field has taught me that abortion is a moral good and that those of us who support the right to choose stand in the light.
We must fight for reproductive rights as hard as we fought for marriage equality. As we celebrate Pride Month, you will likely see dozens of articles that showcase companies that pretend to advocate and show support for the LGBTQ communities but have donated millions to anti-gay and anti-abortion politicians. We have shined a light on those fair-weather advocates that only seem to support us when it is helpful to their image. So now, it is time for us to follow suit. Take a moment to pay attention to the struggles of our actual allies. Attend marches like we attended pride parades. Attend rallies for abortion rights like we did for marriage equality. It is time for us to rally against the politicians who want to restrict people’s right to abortion with the same energy we use to protest those who take a stand against our community.
The Supreme Court draft opinion that was leaked in May has shown us all a deeply divided Court with a staunch conservative majority, one that will likely repeal Roe v. Wade any moment now. When that happens, abortion in Texas will not only be banned, but fully criminalized. At least 25 other states are expected to follow that same path of banning abortion in the coming weeks and months. All the while, many TRAP laws (targeted restrictions of abortion providers that make it harder to offer care) and other unconstitutional limitations on abortion services prior to fetal viability will remain in place.
It may be hard to see the through line between reproductive rights and marriage equality, but the lines are made clearer every day. Make no mistake: The same forces that are working tirelessly to ban abortion are ready to overturn marriage equality the first chance they get. In fact, they are now willing to say this out loud. Texas lawmakers are planning to force legislation that will work to potentially overturn the historic Obergefell v. Hodges. If they can come for our allies, they can come for us.
Gay people are always at war in the court of public opinion. It’s easy to only focus on the laws, restrictions, and opposition forces that affect our own lives and well-being. Not that long ago, I was unaware of the fight abortion providers and people have been waging to ensure their right to abortion. The same people who stand next to us at a pride parade deserve to have us stand next to them when their rights are called into question. We are unequivocally in this together.
For those of you who have not been complacent in the fight for abortion access, I applaud you. For those of you, like me, who have been sitting on the sidelines, it is not too late to be an ally to your ally. Here are a few book and movie recommendations to help bring you up to speed on the abortion landscape and the fight that lies ahead.
Movies: If These Walls Could Talk (1996), 12th & Delaware (2010), Trapped (2016)
Books: Shout Your Abortion by Amelia Bonow and Emily Nokes (2018), The New Handbook for a Post-Roe America by Robin Marty (2019), You’re the Only One I’ve Told by Meera Shah (2020)