Recent news of the anonymously leaked Supreme Court draft opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade outraged and energized pro-choice activists across the country — including transgender community organizer Cazembe Murphy Jackson, who says his abortion saved his life.
"I had been raised [to believe] that getting pregnant is a blessing," Jackson tells Yahoo Life. "But it didn't feel like a blessing for me. It wasn't created in love. It didn't feel like love in my body. It felt like a constant reminder that I wasn't in control.”
That's because pregnancy for the Texas native had been the result of a brutal rape at the hands of four men when Jackson, now 41, was still a college student.
Jackson, who came out as a transgender man in 2015, had first spent years identifying as a masculine-presenting lesbian — something he felt even more empowered to express once he started attending college, where he had girlfriends, connected with other queer students and got involved with the gay-straight alliance. But then came the traumatic moment, during his junior year in 2001, when that feeling of happy freedom would be largely squashed — when he was raped while heading home from the library after a night of studying.
“I ended up walking home by myself, which is not something that I normally did," he recalls. "I was probably a block away from my dorm when these [four] men in a truck approached me … There was a lot of homophobia in the way that they talked to me. I was definitely presenting as a trans-masculine person, and to them that didn't seem very woman-like, and they felt that it was their role to help me know what being a woman meant.”
Ultimately, "that ended in a sexual assault by the four of them," he says. "I don't know that there is a sexual assault that is not demeaning, but this was outside in the grass. Like, just no regard for my own humanity, and they repeatedly told me that this is what God would want."
After going to the hospital and filing a police report, Jackson called his mother whose religious beliefs only deepened his pain. “She told me that things like this were going to continue to happen to me until I changed my life, because this is not what God wanted for me," Jackson shares.
About six weeks after the assault, Jackson discovered that he was pregnant. He instantly dropped out of school and went back home to Austin in search of a solution.“I really thought about, is it possible to bring this pregnancy to term? Because that's how I had been raised — that getting pregnant is a blessing."
But it felt nothing like a blessing, and ultimately, Jackson chose to get an abortion at the local Planned Parenthood. After having the initial consultation and taking out a high-interest payday loan to cover the $300 fee, Jackson returned, recalling that some of the nurses made him feel uncomfortable in the waiting room.
“There were staff, like, giggling. There's a stigma around trans-masculine people being pregnant," he says. "That's why you don't really hear a lot of trans-masculine folks talk about their pregnancy experiences or their abortion stories, which is a reason that I find it so important to tell mine."
It’s estimated that somewhere between 462 and 530 transgender/nonbinary individuals obtained abortions in 2017, according to the Guttmacher Institutute. Jackson believes that such individuals are often left out of the conversation, but will still suffer harsh consequences if the laws are changed.
“When and if Roe v. Wade is overturned, anybody who is able to create a pregnancy in their body is going to be impacted," he points out. "And people who are already marginalized will be even more impacted, because that's just how oppression works. It's all connected."
While the emotional pain of his abortion was tough to navigate, Jackson notes that the kindness of one nurse helped to jumpstart his healing journey.
“I always say my abortion saved my life is because had I not gone to the clinic, I wouldn't have been able to hook up with this Black nurse that basically heard my story and heard that I needed more help than just an abortion,” says Jackson. “She arranged for me to go to a rape crisis therapy center. I got in therapy.”
And now the larger work continues. Jackson, who is the National Membership Organizer for the Rising Majority, says he has already attended rallies in protest of the Supreme Court opinion and vows to keep fighting to uphold access to safe and legal abortions. He's motivated by self-determination — his belief that we should all have the right to determine life-changing decisions for ourselves.
As an organizer, he also believes in the power of the people and the importance of staying united.
"It opens the door for so many other people to be attacked," says Jackson. "Right now they're coming for abortion rights. But if you feel like it doesn't affect you, soon something is gonna be in your lane, and you're gonna wish that you had been in this fight from the beginning.”
—Video produced by Stacy Jackman