Martha Plimpton: We Must Fight for Abortion and LGBTQ Rights—and Our Own Bodies

Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast
Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

It’s been more than a year since Roe v. Wade was struck down, and abortion rights are clearly in a dire crisis. Fifteen states have total abortion bans in effect and two others have six-week bans. Most of the Southeast and Midwest are now abortion deserts and pregnant people are forced to travel hundreds, even thousands, of miles to access abortion care.

I’ve watched the escalating attacks on abortion rights with a mix of horror and outrage. I’ve had more than one abortion in my life, and for a variety of reasons—because I was too young to have kids, or not in a stable relationship, or as a result of illness and complications early on. Each time I made that decision, I was sure it was the right one for me and I was fortunate to have access to the care that I needed. I’m not ashamed of my abortions—I’m grateful.

Abortion Bans in the U.S. Created a Human Rights Crisis

Pregnancy is not always the magical miracle that antis would have you believe. It’s a complicated, messy, often dangerous medical reality that can have any multitude of consequences for a person’s life and health. I’ve been an abortion rights activist for years; I co-founded A is For, a nonprofit organization that works to advance reproductive rights and eradicate abortion stigma, more than a decade ago. Now, in the tragedy that is post-Roe America, we are seeing the real-world costs of restricting and banning abortion. I’ve been steadfastly dedicated to this fight since I was a teenager because I know that without abortion access bodily autonomy is a fiction.

More and more, pregnant people’s health, their very lives, are being put at risk by laws which have nothing to do with medicine and everything to do with an ideological fanaticism that ignores public health realities and penalizes patients and their doctors.

In Texas, patients have been denied standard, normal, essential medical interventions for complications as devastating as having their water break too early, forcing them to carry dying fetuses inside their bodies and risking sepsis, a life-threatening infection. Or forcing patients carrying fetuses with anencephaly, a lethal condition in which neither the brain nor skull develop, to continue with their pregnancies knowing their baby will be born dead. Where is the respect for life in these cases?

But it’s more than abortion, and that’s clearer now than ever before.

Turns out, banning abortion is quite unpopular in America. In every single election where abortion has been on the ballot since Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, legal abortion has won, even in so-called red states like Kansas and Kentucky. Legal abortion boasts record-high levels of support; according to Pew, 61 percent of Americans think abortion should be legal in all or most cases. That level of support has Republicans brainstorming new terms for “pro-life,” since the American electorate has finally seen through the lie it’s always been. It’s never been about life, but about control.

The same can’t be said for the increased attacks on LGBTQ+ rights, particularly restrictions on trans minors’ access to gender-affirming care. So far, nearly 500 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in 2023, according to the ACLU, which maps legislative attacks on the LGBTQ+ community.

Eighty-four of those bills across 23 states have been signed into law. Particularly heinous and hypocritical from the “pro-life” crowd are the wave of discriminatory bills targeting transgender folks, particularly trans youth. Bans on public drag show performances, requiring schools to out trans youth to their parents, barring trans girls from participating in school sports—this isn’t about “protecting children.” It’s about bigotry, and it comes at a grave cost to some of the most vulnerable among us. Half of trans and non-binary youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, and trans youth are reporting higher rates of harassmsent.

The attitude of those who seek to deny the individual rights of anyone not white, Christian, cisgender and straight are consistently cloaked in the garb of religious morality. But it’s a flimsy garment they want all of us to wear; one that attempts to wrap us all in the same drab uniform, leaving no room for the astonishing array of human lived experiences that make each of us unique and precious and worthy of dignity and respect. The fact that the United States currently has the highest rates of maternal mortality in the developed world is immoral. That those rates are four times as high for women of color is immoral. That trans children are being terrorized and ostracized is immoral.

If you’re angry about Republicans’ erosion of abortion rights, you have to also be outraged at the escalating attacks on queer and trans rights. If you aren’t free to express your gender, if you are threatened with harm for simply being who you are, if you are barred from deciding what happens to your own body, whether an abortion or gender-affirming care, your basic humanity has been denied.

These aren’t separate issues—they are all, at their core, about bodily autonomy. It’s time that our movements embrace that holistic framing, as well. As my friend Amelia Bonow, co-founder of Shout Your Abortion, says, abortion is a community responsibility. So is defending bodily autonomy for every single human being denied it.

That’s what A is For is doing. On Oct. 1, at 54 Below in New York City, we will host our annual fundraiser, Broadway Acts for Abortion. This completely fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants night brings together the best of Broadway, karaoke, live auctions, and surprise guests, while raising critical funds and awareness about reproductive justice. It’s the only Broadway community fundraiser dedicated to abortion rights, and this year we have an intentional, pointed theme: Bodily Autonomy for All.

My friend and fellow A is For board member Jenn Lyon and I will be co-hosting this unforgettable, star-studded night, in a spirit of solidarity and defiance, in support of abortion access and LGBTQ rights. Scheduled to appear are Tony winners Bonnie Milligan, John Cameron Mitchell, Kelli O’Hara, and Miriam Silverman, along with Javier Muñoz, Carrie Preston, Michael Emerson, Ann Dowd, and more. It’s a single event on a single night, but we hope it will be a powerful declaration of the Broadway community’s steadfast commitment to bodily autonomy for everyone, regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation, or pregnancy status.

Safe, legal, accessible abortion care allowed me to live the life I want, in the way I want to live it. I’m heartbroken and horrified to know that there are pregnant people in states with abortion bans who lack that same access. Everyone deserves access to quality, compassionate health care. And while I’m heartened to see the increase in support for legal abortion across America in the shadow of Roe’s fall, it’s essential that we harness that support and expand it. The right to bodily autonomy is sacrosanct, whether you’re someone who needs an abortion, gender-affirming care, or simply want to live your truth openly. “Bodily autonomy for all” is the framing we need for a country in crisis. Let’s fight for it.

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