This article is the first in a five-part series, by News is Out member publications, looking at Roe v. Wade and its impacts on the LGBTQ+ community.
By Chris Johnson, Washington Blade
As abortion-rights advocates brace for a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that might overturn Roe v. Wade, many LGBTQ+ people are joining them not only as supporters concerned that a decision overturning marriage equality could be next — but also over fears their access to abortion could be stripped away.
Those fears peaked in May after a draft opinion from Justice Samuel Alito in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case was leaked. That case will determine the constitutionality of a Mississippi law prohibiting abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. In the draft opinion, Alito said he would reverse a 50-year precedent that found a constitutional right to abortion.
But some observers may wonder why LGBTQ+ Americans would be worried about abortion access. After all, the risk of unwanted pregnancy is largely non-existent among gay and lesbian couples, right?
Wrong. Studies have found that isn’t the case, not only because bisexual people often do have intercourse with a different-sex partner, but also because pregnancies result from sexual violence and efforts to suppress sexual orientation during the coming out process. According to a 2000 study, more than 80% of bisexual women and more than one-third of lesbians have experienced at least one pregnancy.
Julie Gonen, federal policy director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told the Blade among the many reasons why LGBTQ people care about abortion rights is “a lot of queer folks can and do become pregnant and some will need abortion care if they face an unwanted pregnancy.”
“We know from studies that lesbian, bisexual and other non-heterosexual women are at least as likely as other women to experience unintended pregnancy and therefore might require abortion care,” Gonen said. “Some of those studies also show that sexual minority women are more likely to have unintended pregnancies that result from sexual violence. For younger people, there are studies that suggest that some of them actually engage in heterosexual sex to prove they’re not gay, and so they put themselves at greater risk of unintended pregnancy.”
Indeed, the legal brief filed jointly by LGBTQ+ groups before the Supreme Court in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which will determine the constitutionality of a Mississippi law prohibiting abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, makes the case for preserving Roe on the basis of the need for LGBTQ+ people to have access to abortion.
Chief among the arguments in the legal brief — Overturning Roe would “have a deeply disruptive effect” on the lives and expectations of millions of women, including members of the LGBTQ community.
“Sexual minority women have the same interest as other women in reproductive autonomy,” the brief says. “They are at least as likely to experience unintended pregnancies, in part due to sexual violence and to economic and other barriers to reproductive care. Sexual minority women often face both sexism and homophobia, and many confront racism and poverty as well, which makes their quest for equal citizenship an uphill battle.”
Studies cited in the brief, including research finding pregnancy is not uncommon among lesbians and bisexual women, find sexual minority women are more likely than other women to have experienced unwanted pregnancy through sexual violence. One study found sexual minority women are more likely to experience violence and sometimes by a factor of 15 or more. Another study found lesbians were nine times more likely than those identifying as straight to report being subjected to violence by the man involved in the pregnancy, and bisexual women were more than twice as likely to do so.
Also pointed out in the legal brief is that lesbian and bisexual women “are at an especially high risk for pregnancy due to social pressures to hide their sexual orientation and convince others they are heterosexual.”
One 2017 study found bisexual women were significantly more likely to have been pregnant in the past 12 months than their peers who were women who have sex with men only and the trend often continues for these women until adulthood.
Transgender men and nonbinary people are also counted as among the members of the LGBTQ+ community who could experience unwanted pregnancies and could require access to abortion.
Megan Caine, a family nurse practitioner at the D.C.-based Whitman-Walker Health, which focuses on LGBTQ+ health care, told the Blade assumptions that LGBTQ+ people wouldn’t need access to abortion “currently exclude many transgender and gender-expansive people with uteruses from accessing the services they need.”
“The prohibition of safe and accessible abortion will only add to this health disparity,” Caine said. “Transgender and gender-expansive people as a population have an alarmingly high rate of suicide. Coupled with significant barriers to accessing birth control, eliminating the option to safely terminate a pregnancy could absolutely put a pregnant person’s life at risk.”
Compounding concerns among LGBTQ+ Americans about access to abortion is the fear that the legal reasoning behind a decision overturning Roe would undermine legal precedent in favor of LGBTQ+ rights, including the 2015 decision in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide, as well as general access to medical care for LGBTQ+ people.
Kellan Baker, executive director and chief learning officer at the Whitman-Walker Institute, said his organization is “already hearing questions from clients who are concerned about what steps they need to take to protect their future options to have an abortion if needed, as well as to protect their families and relationships.”
“Just as we fought to get the government out of our bedrooms, we need to fight back against a Supreme Court decision that would insert itself in private medical decisions that should be made between patients and their providers,” Baker concluded.
Among concerns about a Supreme Court decision jeopardizing health outcomes for LGBTQ+ people, including access to abortion, many LGBTQ+ groups are making the fight over abortion a top priority following the leak of the draft opinion overturning Roe.
The congressional LGBTQ Equality Caucus, for example, issued a statement in May calling for the expansion of the court in an effort to dilute the conservative majority that would overturn Roe. On the other hand, the Human Rights Campaign issued a statement endorsing the Women’s Health Protection Act, which is Democrats’ legislative attempt to codify Roe in law in anticipation the constitutional right will no longer exist.
Gonen said groups representing LGBTQ+ people “are going to continue to fight for abortion rights right alongside our allies in the reproductive health rights and justice movements.”