Trans Visibility and Access to Abortion

Manodiversa poster trans men

By Manodiversa, to mark the International Transgender Day of Visibility

Talking about trans men’s access to abortion was an almost invisible and unaddressed issue until a few years ago. With SAAF funding, Manodiversa, along with our partners in Bolivia, began to discuss and generate evidence on the issue in 2020. As a community we have been constructing terms such as ‘trans men with gestational capacity’, ‘gestational body’, and ‘people with gestational capacity’ to include those who may need access to what has traditionally been called ‘women’s healthcare’.

Talking about abortions in these bodies is an issue that has yet to be fully addressed throughout the LGBTQ+ movement and also the pro-choice movement, but it is a necessary conversation to guarantee access to sexual and reproductive rights and sexual and reproductive health for everyone.

It is currently very difficult to talk about abortion for trans men, because in the public imagination trans men cannot get pregnant.

For Wara, an indigenous trans man on our team, it is this same public imagination that exercises violence on the bodies of trans people when they access health services, not only when they are pregnant, but also when they go to the gynaecologist and other health services. Trans bodies are violated, as health personnel are unaware of trans realities.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of violence surrounding transgender pregnancies here in Bolivia, and even worse when it comes to abortion. We have heard cases of transgender children who have become pregnant and their parents have not let them leave their homes to have an abortion, because they believed that if they gave birth they would become “real women”. Young trans people will not go to a health centre, even if it is for a legally permitted termination of pregnancy (for example for rape) because the health workers discriminate against them.

Laws and policies in Bolivia also discriminate against trans people.

Even though there is a right to have one’s gender identity legally recognised, it competes with other rights such as access to legal abortion, because the law is only made for women. Some people, whose birth certificate show them to be male, are denied the right to a legal termination of pregnancy, because the law speaks only of ‘women’. This affects the life plans and mental health of transgender people, who are often forced to continue pregnancies and give birth.

We recently carried out a study – ‘Abortion in Bisexual Women, Lesbian Women and Trans Men in Bolivia’ – interviewing people across 10 cities in Bolivia.

In collaboration with researcher Gerardo Camacho, we found that:

  • 61% of survey participants have had pregnancies that ended in abortion or miscarriage.
  • Transgender men are the segment of the population who are most often alone when they have abortions, with no support to accompany the process.
  • Trans men are reluctant to access services and prevention tools for unwanted pregnancies, one of the reasons being that some contraceptive methods are made with female hormones.
  • The greatest barriers to accessing abortion are present for trans men – many trans fathers were forced into having children, having been pressured by their families.
The invisibility of transgender men in the abortion rights movement is really high.

The issue of diverse abortion is not worked on, and there is an urgent need for actions to respond to the needs of transgender men and others with the capacity to gestate.

Our research has shown us that it is very important to make the trans reality visible. To let people know that trans people exist, that trans men also have abortions, that there are trans masculine people who have a uterus, who are not on hormone replacement therapy, and that there are trans men who are sex workers. We can find ourselves in a situation of vulnerability to sexual violence, or to our right to decide about our bodies, because we are trans men and cannot safely access a health service.

Read more about Manodiversa’s research in this article.