A sign colored like the blue and pink transgender flag is placed outside on a city sidewalk reading "platforming hate speech is not impartial"

Why Does the ‘New York Times’ Feel the Need To Inject Transphobia Into the Fight for Abortion Access?

The New York Times has once again published a shamelessly transphobic article, this time blaming “transgender activists and eager progressives” for taking over the reproductive rights movement and essentially erasing cis women from the abortion narrative. To be clear, this is not a thing that is actually happening.

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The article comes from reporter Michael Powell, who just last week published some lengthy handwringing over transgender athletes. Powell is getting in on the “you can’t even say the word ‘women’ anymore” conversation, which I’d hoped we’d worked our way through six months ago, the last time this bogus claim made headlines, but apparently not.

The premise of Powell’s article is one we’ve seen before: that the rise of gender-neutral and inclusive language in the abortion rights movement comes at the expense of cis women. But what this argument continues to refuse to recognize (among other things) is that there is a difference between individual experiences and larger movements as a whole. Which honestly does not seem like it should be so hard to accept!

Literally no one is saying you can’t say the word “women” when you are talking about women. But when talking about larger issues, from medical practices to reproductive justice fights, using terms like “pregnant people” and “reproductive rights” (as opposed to “women’s rights”) doesn’t exclude cis women. But refusing to use them in certain contexts does exclude a lot of people—and they are the people already marginalized in these fights, the people disproportionately at risk of real harm.

Powell’s both-sidesing of this issue—which, by the way, is not even an op-ed; it’s presented as standard reporting—is grossly lopsided. And even if it weren’t, that framing inherently dehumanizes trans people. His article (like the one before it about athletes), centers anti-trans arguments and presents the very existence of transgender people as a counterpoint to transphobia.

On one side, Powell has quotes from anti-trans advocates. (He also cites JK Rowling, just to fully let us know where his head is at.) On the other, he has “transgender activists and their allies,” never once apparently considering that a trans person can have thoughts on these issues without immediately branding them as “activists.” He also appears to have avoided actually speaking to any trans people directly, choosing instead to pull quotes from a nearly decade-old blog post:

That this got published at all is simply embarrassing for the Times.

Just in case there were any lingering doubts about the article’s intent, the paper changed its headline after publishing. This isn’t unusual, to the extent that there’s an entire Twitter account dedicated to documenting these changes. But this specific change—from “How Gender-Neutral Language Is Shaping the Fight for Abortion Rights” to “A Vanishing Word in Abortion Debate: ‘Women’”—has no apparent purpose beyond leaning into trans panic fearmongering.

(image: Hollie Adams/Getty Images)


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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.