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Sen. Hawley accused of transphobic questioning at abortion hearing

The Missouri Republican refused to acknowledge that some transgender men can get pregnant

UC Berkeley law professor Khiara Bridges accused Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) of employing a transphobic line of questioning during a Senate hearing on July 12. (Video: C-SPAN)

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday on the legal impact of the end of Roe v. Wade, was accused by a congressional witness of employing a transphobic line of questioning.

Hawley asked University of California at Berkeley law professor Khiara M. Bridges whom she was talking about when she spoke about “people with a capacity for pregnancy.”

“Would that be women?” Hawley asked.

Bridges, who had during the hearing defended access to abortion care for all people who are at risk of pregnancy, explained that cisgender women, trans men and nonbinary people can get pregnant.

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“Many cis women have the capacity for pregnancy. Many cis women do not have the capacity for pregnancy,” Bridges said. “There are also trans men who are capable of pregnancy as well as nonbinary people who are capable of pregnancy.”

“So this isn’t really a women’s rights issue?” Hawley replied.

Bridges explained to Hawley that the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe impacts cisgender women as well as other groups. Those things, she said, are not mutually exclusive.

Some experts on gender and reproductive rights use gender-neutral terms including “people with a capacity for pregnancy” and “pregnant people” when talking about these issues, which help illustrate that not only cisgender women have the ability for pregnancy — and cisgender women aren’t the only ones impacted by decisions to restrict reproductive health care.

Hawley, however, doubled down on his questioning, asking Bridges what the core of her argument was.

Bridges then told the senator his line of questioning was transphobic, because he was refusing to acknowledge transgender people.

“It opens trans people to violence by not recognizing them,” Bridges told Hawley.

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A skeptical Hawley then asked how his questioning could lead to violence. Bridges replied by noting that 1 in 5 transgender people commit suicide.

According to a 2021 study by the Trevor Project, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ rights, more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth in the country seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. The National Center for Transgender Equality has also reported that more than 1 in 4 transgender people has faced a bias-driven assault. Just during the pandemic, calls to Trans Lifeline — a crisis telephone line staffed by transgender people — rose 40 percent.

“Do you believe that men can get pregnant?” Bridges then asked Hawley.

“No, I don’t think so,” the senator replied.

“So you’re denying that trans people exist,” Bridges said.

As the confrontation escalated, Hawley asked Bridges if that’s how she runs her classroom, by telling students that they’re opening people “up to violence.”

“We have a good time in my class,” Bridges replied. “You should join. You might learn a lot.”

“I would learn a lot,” Hawley replied, mockingly. “I’ve learned a lot from this exchange.”

The hearing then moved on to another witness. But later Tuesday, Hawley shared a clip of the interaction on Twitter, accusing Democrats of being unwilling to participate in debate.

“For today’s left, disagreement with them = violence,” Hawley said in the tweet. “So you must not disagree.”

Bridges did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the exchange.

Roe v. Wade and abortion access in America

Roe v. Wade overturned: The Supreme Court has struck down Roe v. Wade, which for nearly 50 years has protected the right to abortion. Read the full decision here.

What happens next?: The legality of abortion will be left to individual states. That likely will mean 52 percent of women of childbearing age would face new abortion limits. Thirteen states with “trigger bans” will ban abortion within 30 days. Several other states where recent antiabortion legislation has been blocked by the courts are expected to act next.

State legislation: As Republican-led states move to restrict abortion, The Post is tracking legislation across the country on 15-week bans, Texas-style bans, trigger laws and abortion pill bans, as well as Democratic-dominated states that are moving to protect abortion rights enshrined in Roe v. Wade.

How our readers feel: In the hours that followed the ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Washington Post readers responded in droves to a callout asking how they felt — and why.