Abortion should be safe, legal, and available at your local drugstore. But it’s not. For years, accessing abortion has become increasingly difficult; and now the legislature of Alabama has made it absolutely illegal to perform one. Wherever they can, Republicans are working to outlaw sexual agency. And though gay men may not feel the immediacy of the risk to our own bodies, we need to. Attacks on abortion are also attacks on gay men.
The debate over abortion has always been, at its core, about whether any of us has the right to make decisions regarding our own sexuality. Moral judgments about the intent of sexual activity, what defines sexual health, and how we choose to live our sexual lives are the prime motivators of all attempts to restrict the constitutional right to abortion. The sort of politicians pretending to “moral authority” on the issue of abortion now are the same who deliberately did nothing while AIDS killed a whole generation of gay men.
Such moralizers will always consider sexual intimacy between men to be as objectionable as abortion because the way we share our bodies with one another has nothing to do with “making babies.” Abortion, available without shame, confirms that all sexuality is a valid expression of human dignity whether or not it involves procreation. Our sexual freedom is based on the right to abortion, and we should honor that fact. We cannot have one without the other.
What’s happening in Georgia, Alabama, Missouri, and other places is the latest escalation of moralizing legislators’ ongoing war against sexual agency. Legislatures across the country have been passing laws for years that prescribe limits on when an abortion can be performed, sometimes even before pregnancy is determined. They’ve placed excessive and unnecessary regulations on medical providers who perform abortions. They’ve banned public funding and private insurance coverage for abortion. They’ve mandated shame-inducing obligations on those seeking an abortion, such as reviewing ultrasounds and listening to a fetal heartbeat. And they’ve allowed their sympathizers to loiter outside locations where abortion is available for no purpose other than to harass and intimidate those trying to enter.
These restrictions on abortion access do more than assert conservative politicians’ medieval notions of sex and sexuality. Their goal is to create the conditions in which a test case emerges that can challenge and ultimately overturn Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court. As Trump gives them judges they want, they’re pursuing more opportunities to subvert four decades of judicial precedents.
If these efforts culminate in the overturn of Roe, every decision that’s made it possible for gay men to live their sexual lives without fear of prosecution and incarceration will be vulnerable to a similar fate. Roe is the legal basis for the Lawrence v. Texas decision, which decriminalized sodomy, and the Obergefell v. Hodges decision affirming same-sex marriage builds on Lawrence. Without Roe and the other decisions to protect us, public officials can once more enforce criminal statutes against homosexuality (which often remain in state law). Imagine the terror of gay men being arrested for having recorded their mutual love and commitment with the county clerk, then charged and convicted on the evidence of their own marriage.
Make no mistake, the moralizers are remorseless about how far they’re willing to go.
So great is their determination that, in an effort to catch the attention of the federal courts, lawmakers in both Alabama and Missouri wittingly outlawed abortion even in cases of rape and incest. The Alabama Legislature, going further, provided criminal penalties for doctors who perform abortions that are more severe than the sentences a judge can impose on convicted rapists.
Of course it’s outrageous, but we can’t afford to be outraged just in the abstract. To feel the ache in our liberal sensibilities isn’t enough. We have to recognize the extent of the danger and fight to expand access to abortion, because every attack on abortion is targeted also at the bodies and sexual expression of gay men. If we’re unable, or unwilling, to accept that getting an abortion should be as easy as refilling a prescription at our local drugstore, then we’ve failed to understand what we ourselves have at stake.
Brian Gaither is a co-founder of the Pride Foundation of Maryland. Reach him @briangaither.