Professor scolds Sen. Josh Hawley during abortion hearing: 'Your line of questioning is transphobic'

In a heated exchange at a Senate hearing on abortion access, Professor Khiara Bridges of the University of California's Berkeley School of Law accused Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., of risking the safety of members of the trans community with what she called his “transphobic” questions.

The back-and-forth Tuesday began when Hawley asked Bridges to clarify her initial statement on pregnancy.

“You’ve referred to people with a capacity for pregnancy. Would that be women?” asked Hawley, who was educated at Stanford University and Yale Law School.

In response, Bridges, who had been invited to the hearing to defend access to abortion care, answered, “Many cis women have the capacity for pregnancy. Many cis women do not have the capacity for pregnancy. There are also trans men who are capable of pregnancy, as well as nonbinary people who are capable of pregnancy.”

Khiara Bridges, professor of law at the UC Berkeley School of Law, at the microphone.
Khiara Bridges, a professor at the University of California's Berkeley School of Law, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday. (Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty)

A study using data from the Guttmacher Institute's Abortion Provider Census found that approximately 500 transgender and gender-nonbinary individuals obtained abortions in 2017.

Apparently unsatisfied with this response, Hawley followed up, asking, “Your view, the core of this right is about what?”

Bridges replied, “I want to recognize that your line of questioning is transphobic, and it opens up trans people to violence.”

The law professor, who focuses on the intersection of race, class and reproductive rights, added that the reversal of Roe v. Wade impacts more than just cisgender women, and that the topic of abortion rights for all the groups she enumerated is not mutually exclusive.

Neither Hawley nor Bridges responded to requests for comment from Yahoo News.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., pencil in hand, listens quizzically.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on May 3. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

According to a 2021 study by the Trevor Project, a pro-LGBTQ rights advocacy organization, 52% of transgender and nonbinary youth in the U.S. seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year.

As the exchange between Bridges and Hawley draws attention, reproductive rights advocates have overwhelmingly sided with Bridges, accusing Hawley of creating a purposely dense and baseless “fake” argument.

“Sen. Hawley tried to conjure a fake dispute between transgender and nonbinary people and cisgender women to fire up his base and distract the public from the real issue — the Supreme Court’s stripping away constitutional protection for reproductive and bodily autonomy,” Cynthia Soohoo, a law professor at the City University of New York School of Law and the co-director of the Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic, told Yahoo News.

“As Professor Bridges pointed out, Sen. Hawley’s line of questioning was not only disingenuous, his denial of the existence of trans men — as well as consistent Republican talking points designed to scapegoat and stigmatize trans people — impose real harms on a community that already faces high rates of discrimination and violence.”

A young protester wearing heart stickers under each eye holds up a pink placard saying: Protect Trans Youth.
A participant in the Queer Liberation March in New York City in 2021. (Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Although a majority of Americans have shown their support in various surveys for the expansion of LGBTQ rights, Republican-led states have pushed forward a record number of anti-trans bills, while several statewide Republican candidates have leaned into anti-trans ads in their campaigns.

Conservative groups, like the American Principles Project (APP), have pushed GOP legislators to draw hard lines on issues like transgender women in female sports.

“Make no mistake: Defending women’s sports is fast becoming a litmus test issue for Republicans, and voters will be paying attention to where their representatives stand,” APP president Terry Schilling said in a statement.

Randall Balmer, a Dartmouth College professor who was raised evangelical, believes the rise of the evangelical voting bloc is the biggest driving force behind Republican support for anti-trans legislation.

“They have an interest in keeping the base riled up about one thing or another, and when one issue fades, as with same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage, they’ve got to find something else,” Balmer, author of “Bad Faith: Race and the Rise of Religious Right,” told the 19th News, a nonprofit newsroom. “It’s almost frantic.”

Other advocates have doubled down on this assertion.

A protester in pink shirt and blue shades stands under an elaborate, rainbow Gay Pride banner with the text
A scene at the LGBT Pride March in New York City in 2016. (EuropaNewswire/Gado/Getty Images).

Julie Allen, a fellow at Harvard University’s Advanced Leadership Initiative, wrote for WBUR that trans children are being used by Republicans as pawns.

“Transphobia is not an ideology — it is a sound-bite wedge issue being used by opportunistic politicians, fear-mongering to their right-wing base,” she wrote.

Rep. Stephanie Byers, the first openly transgender member of the Kansas Legislature, told USA Today that there are Republicans who simply refuse to accept that transgender people exist.

"They want to push people back into the closet," said Byers, a Democrat, who complained after a colleague refused to share the women’s bathroom with her.

But a recent PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll in April found that 2 out of 3 of Americans oppose laws that would limit transgender rights.

Rep. Stephanie Byers in red coat and black-and-white dress.
Rep. Stephanie Byers, the first openly transgender member of the Kansas Legislature, in 2018. (Getty Images for GLSEN)

The purpose of Tuesday’s Senate hearing was to discuss varying perspectives on the potential legal consequences of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“It’s important that Professor Bridges lifted the visibility of the experience of trans men and nonbinary people with pregnancy,” Soohoo said. “Transgender and nonbinary individuals should have access to the full range of reproductive health care, including family planning and prenatal and pregnancy care, in a welcoming and nondiscriminatory environment.”

“Professor Bridges refused to give in to Sen. Hawley’s attempt to create a 'gotcha' moment for his Twitter feed,” she added. “She schooled him and hopefully educated the public about transgender issues. I’d love to be in her class.”


Cover thumbnail photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images, Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images