And why this should not surprise us.
Earlier this month (May 2022) a leaked document revealed that a majority of the US Supreme Court justices plan to support overruling the Roe vs Wade case law that legalized abortion in America. While the Supreme Court is yet to make a final ruling on the matter it has confirmed what American feminists have been warning us for some time. This could lead to millions of people in America having abortion rights restricted or taken away altogether.
However, Scotland is far from a shining alternative. At this very moment the Scottish Government is refusing to take a firm position on implementing buffer zones so people can go into healthcare settings without getting harassed by anti-choice activists. Additionally, the SNP has refused to take action on John Mason MSP for pushing misinformation that health professionals aren’t practicing informed consent in abortion treatment. This mis-information tied with the drastic increase of anti-abortion protests outside healthcare settings that John Mason has openly admitted he has attended is limiting people’s rights to not just abortion but to a variety of healthcare.
The religious right in America, Scotland and in the wider UK has been gaining more momentum and more power for over the last five years especially. For a long while we have been distracted by manufactured moral panic about the threat that trans people possess to society. The religious right hasn’t done this by themselves they’ve had help from gender critical activists.
The Heritage Foundation is a right wing religious American think tank which took a leading role in the conservative movement during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. It has relationships with high profile gender critical activists like Gary Powel, a founder of the LGB Alliance, and Kellie-Jay Keen Minshull aka Posie Parker who is behind the transphobic dog whistle campaign ‘Adult Human Female’. Even Julie Bindel has a public relationship with Jennifer Lahl who is founder and president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network which is again a right wing religious organisation that argues against reproductive technology. Lahl has also worked with an organisation called Alliance Defending Freedom which opposes equal marriage, says that queer and trans people are more likely to be paedophiles and campaigns against access to women’s healthcare.
Gender Critical activism in the UK even threatened Gillick competency at one point. Gillick competency is a term used to decide whether a young person under the age of 16 can consent to medical treatment without the need for parental permission. Healthcare like puberty blockers, have abortions and the covid 19 vaccine.
I could also talk about Caroline Ffiske head of Women Uniting and a founder of the ‘If you want my X respect my sex’ campaign that aimed to ask as many politicians as possible “what is a woman?” in recent council elections. Caroline Ffiske suggested that we need a bigger gender pay gap. Gender critical journalist Caroline Farrow has stated that homosexual acts are sinful and that abortion is not healthcare. Dennis Noel Kavanagh set up a gender critical group called the Gay Men’s Network and said that he preferred aids to the activism done by LGBT+ groups like Mermaids and Stonewall.
In the UK we have seen gender critical campaigns casting misinformation on hormones or surgery, that trans people often regret it, it leads it irreversible damage, it’s not healthy and it’s not healthcare and on some occasions, you’ll be warned that you are condemning your soul to hell. When that does not work, they demonise you, present you as a predator that wants to take other vulnerable people down the same dark path. If that sounds familiar to you that’s because the religious right uses the exact same arguments against abortion.
On the 7th of May I organized an emergency protest with another trans women outside the US Consulate in Edinburgh. As trans women, we know what it’s like to have our body autonomy threatened and believe it is important to be vocal about what is happening in America and support buffer zones, body autonomy & showing solidarity for our cis sisters, trans brothers & non binary siblings. Over 80 activists came to show support to affected Americans. Back Off Scotland talked about their campaign for buffer zones outside of healthcare settings and the refusal from the Scottish Government to take action. Scottish Green MSP Gillian Mackay talked about her bill on buffer zones which is going to have a public consultation in the near future and that the sooner it’s legislated on the better. A representative from the Scottish Trans Alliance talked about how abortion rights is a women’s rights issue but a trans rights issue too. They recited a story from a trans man who needed to get an abortion, how this impacted their gender dysphoria and how we fail non binary people and trans men who need abortions by needlessly gendering legislation on reproductive rights.
However the most moving speeches where from the floor. People sharing their experiences of getting abortions, Americans in Scotland that are afraid to go home and people who have been mistakenly harassed by anti-choice activists when going into healthcare settings.
To my knowledge there was not one gender critical activist there at the protest. Instead, while we were campaigning for abortion rights outside the US Consulate gender critical activists were having lunch on the Glasgow Green. These middle class lunch events where triggered by JK Rowling’s expensive and well promoted meal with some of the most recognizable gender critical activists in Britain. Since then, it has become a gender critical tradition. When they learnt that two trans people organised an a protest for reproductive rights and were challenged why lunch was more important they retaliated by trying to discredit an abortion rights protest as much as possible.
Not even a week later on the 12th of May I get a text from a non-binary person attending Sandyford Central in Glasgow who was there to receive some tests and rape counselling. The message read that there are anti abortion protesters outside. When I arrive, I see two pale grey old men on a megaphone and a camera filming people going in and out of a healthcare center. Together they yelled at everyone who they assumed to be a women to “stop murdering babies”. The Police turned up and asked them to not use the megaphone but these were two religious preachers who could project their voices to the same volume the sound equipment could. Over the next few hours, I witnessed their misogynistic bile but also homophobia, transphobia, antisemitism and islamophobia.
They then started to get more aggressive with women who objected to their behaviour and getting in people’s faces. I had to put myself between them more times than I would have liked while Police Scotland remained relaxed and refused to do anything. Meanwhile in the Sandyford building staff said it was so loud that they couldn’t consult on one side of the building and that patients were in distress. In the end it was not Police Scotland that removed anti-choice protesters but the actions of women, trans people and people from the wider LGBT+ community who came to counter protest them.
These are the people that gender critical activists have been allying themselves with. While they are focusing on lunches, asking others “what is a woman” and merely defining women as baby making machines, we need to be instead unified and have solidarity for each other. We need to be committed to upholding the very concept of body autonomy for everyone.
Only some of what Sandyford does is abortion related care. Sandyford is a gender identity clinic were trans people go to get healthcare, it offers services for those who have been sexually assaulted, it provides HIV services, it offers great sexual healthcare for the LGBT+ community and for sex workers, menopause services, free and emergency contraceptives and much more.
Trans people, the wider LGBT+ community and women all need to be united because as soon as one group’s body autonomy is threatened so is the others. We all have the same enemy, the patriarchy and we cannot afford to be distracted from that. The concept of body autonomy is slowly crumbling in Scotland. If Maree Todd, the Scottish Government Minister for Public and Women’s Health doesn’t want to help protect that by supporting buffer zones she should resign and make way for someone who will.
By Beth Douglas