Hawley invoked transphobia during an abortion rights hearing in an apparent attempt to rile up the GOP base.
Hawley, in his line of questioning, asked one of the witnesses — UC Berkeley law professor Khiara Bridges — why she kept using the term “people with a capacity for pregnancy” when she was describing who would be affected by bans and restrictions on abortion. “Would that be women?” Hawley asked.
Bridges explained that she was using this term to be inclusive of different groups who would be affected by these laws. “Many cis women have the capacity for pregnancy, many cis women do not have the capacity for pregnancy,” Bridges explained. “There are also trans men who are capable of pregnancy as well as non-binary people who are capable of pregnancy.”
“So this isn’t really a women’s rights issue, it’s a — ” Hawley countered.
“We can recognize that this impacts women while also recognizing that it impacts other groups. Those things are not mutually exclusive,” said Bridges. Hawley then went on to ask what she thought the “core of this right” was about. At that point, Bridges noted that his remarks limited who the conversation about abortion rights should be centered on.
“I want to recognize that your line of questioning is transphobic, and it opens up trans people to violence,” said Bridges, who went on to cite studies about the high attempted suicide rate among trans people. Hawley expressed skepticism that his remarks would contribute to violence, prompting Bridges to note that he was denying trans people’s existence.
“Do you believe that men can get pregnant?” said Bridges.
“No, I don’t think men can get pregnant,” Hawley said.
“So you’re denying that trans people exist,” Bridges said.
“And that leads to violence?” Hawley said.
Bridges’s concerns reflect the fact that lawmakers’ political attacks on trans people — including denying their existence, and using legislation to limit their freedom of movement, access to activities, and availability of health care — have coincided with an increase in physical violence. According to a 2021 Time report, anti-trans violence has surged in the wake of an increase in legislation targeting trans people. A 2021 UCLA report also found that trans people, particularly Black and brown trans people, were significantly more likely to be victims of violent crime than cis people.
You can watch the full exchange, here.
Hawley’s questions, which failed to acknowledge how many people are impacted by the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe, are another instance of Republicans tapping into transphobia in their discussion of issues on which they’ve taken a stance that’s not reflective of the position of most Americans. As survey after survey has shown, most Americans support abortion rights, and Hawley’s focus on language allowed him to avoid engaging with that fact, and to instead focus on a topic that has proven to be galvanizing for the Republican base.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) used a similar tactic this past spring, during the nomination process for Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, who most Americans believed was a good fit for the Court. After other dishonest attacks that highlighted culture war issues, Blackburn asked Jackson to define what a “woman” was.
Turning their ire on inclusive language is a conscious strategy. It allows Republicans to misrepresent and minimize the effects of laws like abortion bans, by omitting groups that they affect. Engaging in transphobia also plays well with some members of the Republican base. And it deflects from arguments over the issue at hand: in Hawley’s case, that he and his party want to limit abortion access despite that being a nationally unpopular stance.
As Julie Allen, a Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative fellow, wrote for WBUR, “Transphobia is not an ideology — it is a sound-bite wedge issue being used by opportunistic politicians, fear-mongering to their right-wing base.”
Josh Hawley accused of transphobic line of questioning during sharp exchange with law professor
Washington (CNN)Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri was accused by a law professor of engaging in a line of transphobic questioning during a hearing Tuesday on the legal consequences of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade.
Following the Supreme Court’s ruling last month, some progressives have increasingly used the term “pregnant people” — as opposed to “women” — to refer to those whose right to abortion they seek to protect, in an effort to recognize that transgender men and non-binary people are also affected by the court’s decision, which overturned the 1973 landmark ruling that had made access to abortion a federal constitutional right.
“You refer to ‘people with a capacity for pregnancy.’ Would that be women?” Hawley asked Khiara Bridges, a law professor at UC Berkeley School of Law, during the sharp exchange at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
“Many women, cis women, have the capacity for pregnancy, many cis women do not have the capacity for pregnancy,” Bridges replied. “There are also trans men who are capable of pregnancy, as well as non-binary people who are capable of pregnancy.
Pressed by Hawley about what Bridges’ view of “the core of this right, then, is about,” the professor asserted that Hawley’s questioning was transphobic because he was effectively denying the existence of trans men and non-binary people.
“I want to recognize that your line of questioning is transphobic and it opens up trans people to violence by not recognizing them,” Bridges said, to which the senator responded incredulously.
Hawley’s focus on the inclusive language comes as both abortion rights and trans rights have become political flashpoints around the country, with Republican state lawmakers passing a slew of restrictive measures on both fronts in recent months and years.
Bridges went on to note that trans people suffer from high rates of attempted suicide, adding: “Denying that trans people exist and pretending not to know that they exist is dangerous.”
She asked the senator directly if he believes that men can get pregnant.
“No, I don’t think men can get pregnant,” Hawley said, to which the professor replied: “So you’re denying that trans people exist.”
“Is this how you run your classroom? Are students allowed to question you or are they also treated like this?” Hawley asked.
“We have a good time in my class,” Bridges shot back. “You should join. You might learn a lot.”