El Sanchez was crying as the nurse held their hand. “I’m sorry,” the nurse said. “This is always really hard for women.” But at that moment, Sanchez wasn’t crying from the emotional consequences of getting an abortion; they were crying because of the physical pain. Soon, Sanchez began bawling. Both the nurse and the doctor performing the procedure continued to misgender them, ignoring their insistence that, really, they were fine, and no, they didn’t need their “boyfriend.”
This was Sanchez’s second abortion, but their first since coming out as nonbinary. “The first time, you know, I didn’t get emotional at all,” Sanchez tells Allure. “[During my second abortion] the combination of the doctor misgendering me, and then forcing these heterosexual gender roles on me, made me feel even more erased in the situation, and so it became much more emotional for me.”
However, they’re not alone in their plight; abortion can be tricky to navigate for anyone, but it presents unique challenges for transgender people who are often erased — both unintentionally and intentionally — from the conversation. The consequences of this can be life-altering. For places where abortion rights are restricted, it can be even harder for transgender individuals to find competent and affirming care.
Creating a new model for reproductive rights
Katy Leopard, the director for external affairs at the Choices clinic in Memphis, Tennessee has seen how difficult accessing affirmative health care can be first hand, and is doing what she can to help fix these systemic issues. “We have patients who travel hundreds of miles or more to come see us,” she tells Allure. “And we have between 250 and 300 trans patients who we see annually for all different things.”
For the past few years, Choices has provided a three-part training for medical professionals across Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas. (The program is currently on hold due to the pandemic.) The program, which is led by transgender people in the medical field, teaches medical professionals how to provide competent and affirming care for transgender patients such as using the proper name and pronouns as well as what language to use with respect to a patient’s sexual history.
Still, Leopard says, it’s not possible to account for everything. “Ultimately, what you’re going to have to deal with is that people have ingrained ways of thinking about gender,” she says. “And breaking those really old mental models that people have is really hard.”