My Body Belongs To Me

A reflection to commemorate the 46th anniversary of "Roe"

Every civil libertarian I’ve met, it seems, has their own personal story about why protecting essential freedoms is deeply personal. I am no different.

Since my earliest days as an activist, two issues – LGBTQ rights and abortion rights – have resonated strongly with me. They’ve been at my core and calling as an ordained United Church of Christ minister and ACLU executive director – and they are my jumping off place for understanding and connecting with all civil rights struggles.

My first passion – LGBTQ rights -- is easy to understand, because I am gay. So, in terms of my self-interest, and because the LGBTQ community is dear to me, advocating for LGBTQ protections is a no-brainer. I have seen the harm of anti-LGBTQ bias, hatred, and prejudice firsthand, and I know the need for legal safeguards.

Abortion rights, on the surface, might seem like a more difficult dotted-line to connect for a gay man, but from an early age I understood the strong correlation between bodily autonomy and civil liberty.

Unless, and until, you have ultimate control over what you can do with your body and what is done to it – including your sexuality, your reproductive organs, your choice to procreate or not, and your access to information about your sexual well-being, health, and options – then you are under someone else’s subjugation. And, most generally, an unchecked government will gladly fulfill that role.

It’s never lost on me that the same persons, organizations, and churches that oppose abortion rights are the very same ones that vehemently oppose birth control and safe-sex education, including any mention of LGBTQ existence. In short, those most against abortion have no interest in helping you not get pregnant. At first glance, it feels like an oxymoronic stance. But on deeper inspection, you discover their real motivation: attacking and impugning all sexuality, no matter its expression.

I’ve witnessed how the same people who malign LGBTQ persons as sexually deviant are equally malevolent about women who seek reproductive care, including contraception and abortion. They think they know us and our stories, and can label us however they choose. They use religion to clobber us. They seek to steal our personal agency. But they cannot and shall not prevail.

All genders and gender identities, of all sexual orientations, need and deserve reproductive health care.

My husband of nearly two decades, and I, made a shared decision that raising children was not something we were called to do. We have long considered that a deliberate, even sacred, choice. Other gay men and lesbians I know have wanted to raise kids for as long as they can remember. Both are equally valid choices, made in the best interest of the well-being of children. Both can be honored and celebrated.

Likewise, I have an adult niece and nephew, beloved by me and my spouse, who were conceived via in vitro fertilization by my sister, who is straight. That was a reproductive choice on her part, and a mighty fine one, I must say. Yet, I also know women, both married and single, who have elected to have abortions for a variety of reasons – informed, wise, and personal for them. Their decisions are no less sacred, ethical, and worthy of respect.

Let’s be clear: legislative attacks on Roe v. Wade, and all attempts to overthrow it, are about restricting access to abortion, yes, but they’re also rooted in more governmental control over our bodies; what we do with our bodies; and how, why, and with whom we make love with them.

Subjugation is the opposite of freedom. Be it patriarchy and misogyny, or homo/transphobia and heterosexism, those of us who care about Roe – especially its emphasis on bodily autonomy – will always advocate for full-options reproductive health care, especially today as we commemorate the landmark case’s 46th anniversary.

Every attempt to undermine abortion rights should be met with full-throated opposition, most especially from the LGBTQ community, because we – of all people – should know what the real motivation is. We’re not going back. None of us.

J. Bennett Guess is executive director of the ACLU of Ohio.