It’s probably not true that 99.999% of pregnant people are cis women

Esteemed feminist opinion writer Katha Pollitt – who has long been a friend of and fundraiser for abortion funds (I think she even donated to my fundraiser page one year) – caused a stir yesterday with a piece in the Nation. She wrote about how it’s a mistake for an increasing number of abortion funds to use TGNC*-inclusive language (e.g. referring to “pregnant people” instead of “pregnant women”), because it minimizes women and minimizes the gendered aspects of abortion politics.

As a board member at the first NNAF-affiliated abortion fund to go TGNC-inclusive in our language**, and that was cited in Pollitt’s piece as an example of something that bothers her, and also as someone who has been pretty active on this topic as an individual within the abortion funding world, I have thoughts about this. Many thoughts! And I plan to post a more in-depth ideological examination of Pollitt’s piece! But as a numbers geek, one bit in her piece that jarred my numbers geek brain was her claim that (cis) women are “99.999 percent of those who get pregnant.” “Is that really true,” I wondered, “that only 1 in 100,000 people who get pregnant are trans men and/or nonbinary people with uteruses? I don’t think that’s an accurate number, even as an approximation for rhetorical purposes.”

That number might not be the most important part of what she wrote – I can almost hear some of my activist friends saying “She’s questioning the rightness of trans inclusivity and you’re posting about a number?” as I write this – but it’s not a trivial part either. Part of Pollit’s argument is that TGNC people seeking abortions can reasonably be ignored in language about abortion because they’re so rare as to be almost a hypothetical posed to divide feminists, rather than real people who might see language centered around cis women and wonder if a fund or other abortion-related service will be respectful, will even be willing to work with them. So I’m cranking out a post just to push back on the 99.999% number.

I couldn’t find numbers on nonbinary people’s pregnancies or abortions at all, and I couldn’t find numbers on trans men’s pregnancies or abortions in the US. I did, however, find numbers on trans men’s births and abortions in Australia pretty easily (though only some of Australia’s states collect abortion numbers, period), so let’s run with that.

In 2013, there were 54 babies born to trans men who were willing to disclose their gender to Australia’s government-run universal healthcare program, and 44 trans men willing to disclose their gender to the system who had abortions or D&Cs (which are coded the same way in the system). I suspect that these are undercounts because some trans men might not be willing to disclose their gender to healthcare providers out of fear of discrimination or harassment, but they’re the numbers we’ve got. In the same year, there were 308,065 babies born in Australia, and an estimated 80,000 abortions and D&Cs.

If you do the math, that comes out to trans men accounting for approximately 1 in 5700 births in Australia in 2013, which is already a very different number from 1 in 100,000. It gets even more interesting, though, if you do the abortion/D&C math – nearly 1 in 1800 of those are trans men! So out trans men’s abortion-to-live-birth ratio was over 3x higher than the overall rate, and they’re about two orders of magnitude more of the abortion-having population than Pollitt figured.

It’s not a stretch to think this would more or less extrapolate to the US. The best estimates that we seem to have of the TGNC population in the US say that TGNC people are 0.5% of the population, and in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, which attempted to get a representative sample, trans men were about 26% of the TGNC population, which would make trans men 0.13% of the whole population. Using the Australian rates calculated in the previous paragraph, the most recent US population figures (using a figure of 50.8% of the US population being women, the most recent I could find), and the number of abortions in the US in recent years, we could expect about 1 in 1000 trans men (amounting to more than 400 trans men in all) and 4 in 1000 cis women in the US to have abortions each year. That’s a disparity, but hardly an overwhelming one that makes the idea of a trans man seeking abortion a hypothetical.
And that’s looking only at trans men. We have no numbers for nonbinary people with uteruses. I can’t think of any reason to assume that they get pregnant or seek abortions less than trans men. Nonbinary people were 14% of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey’s sample, and 78% of those were assigned female at birth, so that’s another chunk of non-cis-women, a good 40% the size of the trans men’s chunk if that sample is representative of the TGNC population, who could get pregnant or have abortions.

Since abortion funds tend to fund people with lower incomes for obvious reason, it’s also worth looking at the household incomes of TGNC people. The NTDS says that both trans men and nonbinary people are more likely to be low-income than the general population, with 31% and 27%, respectively, having household incomes under $20,000/year, compared to only 13% of the general population. That seems relevant to abortion funds, which ought to be actively inclusive to people likely to need to seek their help.

Finally, I can’t stress enough that the Australian numbers include only those trans men who were willing to be out as trans men to a government health agency. In the US’ National Transgender Discrimination Survey, only 51% of TGNC people were out to “most” or “all” of their healthcare providers.

So while there’s very little data to go on, what we do have suggest that it’s blatantly not true that 99.999% of people who get pregnant are women, and blatantly true that a lot of TGNC folks with uteruses have been and are affected by abortion politics. If anyone finds more data, especially US data, please let me know in comments!

If you’re TGNC and pregnant, or know someone who is, you might be interested in ButchBaby (a line of pregnancy clothes for pregnant men, nonbinary people, and masculine women), and Trans Birth (a directory of TGNC-friendly OB/GYNs, midwives, doulas, and other pregnancy-related care providers).

*There are tons of terms out there that people use for “anyone who is not cis, whether they’re transitioning from one binary gender and/or sex to the other, or are nonbinary, or genderfluid, or bigender, or what have you.” I’ve seen trans, trans*, trans+, trans/genderqueer, trans/gender nonconforming, gender variant, gender nonconforming, T/GQ, T/GNC, and TGNC all used in this manner. I’m using TGNC here, but different people, communities, and contexts will have different preferences and usages.

**[notseriousrivalries] That’s right, we did it a good two years before NYAAF, which always gets portrayed as the big pioneer in stories about this issue. Eastern Massachusetts pride! [/notseriousrivalries]

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