Gender Studies hosts panel on the intersection of transgender and abortion care

Originally Published March 22nd, 2023

The Notre Dame Gender Studies Program and the Reilly Center for Science, Technology, & Values sponsored the second panel of the “Reproductive Justice: Scholarship for Solidarity and Social Change” event series. This virtual dialogue was titled “Trans Care + Abortion Care: Intersections and Questions,” and hosted two scholar-activists and public intellectuals, Jules Gill-Peterson and Ash Williams on March 20, 2023.

Jules Gill-Peterson is an Associate Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University and has held fellowships from the Kinsey Institute for Sexological Research and the American Council of Learned Societies. Gill-Peterson is the author of Histories of the Transgender Child and is in the process of writing several other books, including The Trans Girl Lyric and Gender Underground: A History of Trans DIY.

According to the Gender Studies website, Ash Williams is a “Black trans abortion doula, public intellectual, and abolitionist community organizer.” Williams holds a master’s degree in ethics and applied philosophy and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from UNC-Charlotte. Williams has also been working to “get people the best abortion they can have” by funding abortions for “pregnant people” and counseling women on their abortion options in North Carolina since Roe v. Wade was overturned. 

Williams described abortion doulas as “people who provide informational, emotional, and—when given consent—physical support before, during, and after an abortion.” Williams elaborated, “for me, an abortion is a type of birth … the reason we don’t understand [an abortion] this way, is because it has become so disenfranchised.”

In an interview with NPR, Williams acknowledged the importance of catering to clients’ personal abortion needs. Nevertheless, Williams noted that discussing personal experience with abortion is “part of the job,” and even has a tattoo of a surgical abortion tool used for manual vacuum aspiration.

At the prompting of Gill-Peterson, Williams expressed frustration with the “gender binary” and its resulting “reproductive oppression,” which impacts public perceptions about the intersecting issue of abortion. “Abortion is, for some, a form of contraception that should never be limited. There is no group of people on earth who don’t need abortion access.”

After an hour, the talk veered towards abolition in relation to the reproductive justice movement, the importance of “decriminalizing abortion,” and the “ticking clock of the climate crisis.” Williams explained, “Police violence and the fact that there might not be a planet to inhabit very soon” are the barriers people face when deciding whether to have children. 

Williams concluded that reproductive justice “has the audacity to posit that we all deserve to be free from another motherf***er, the state, the government, and the environment.”

Williams also expressed disapproval with society’s limited knowledge about abortion procedures, which “can have a negative and limiting influence on the abortion options” Williams’ patients choose. As an abortion doula, Williams asserted that “the way we provide support is through information.” 

Williams takes pride in “busting myths about abortion … like where the actual abortion clinics are,” as opposed to crisis pregnancy centers, which “pose as abortion clinics” but are actually “scary places” that people should avoid.

Not every client that comes to Williams decides to have an abortion. In that case, Williams supports patients by actively listening and providing pregnancy resources.

Notre Dame Gender Studies declined to answer why they invited Jules Gill-Peterson and Ash Williams for the event. However, during the webinar, Pam Butler, the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Gender Studies Program, explained that “cutting edge scholars”—such as Williams and Gill-Peterson—provide valuable perspective on “current discourse” surrounding “the intersection of medicine, law, history, and culture.”

Not every student in attendance felt that this goal was achieved. According to Notre Dame freshman Kephas Olsson, “The lecture was incoherent, nonsensical, and took seeming pleasure in contradicting the views that the university professes to believe in. While Notre Dame’s policy allows for opposing views being presented, it stipulates that the Catholic position is to be articulated by the department. Clearly the Notre Dame Gender Studies Program feels no need to make a serious effort towards sincerely doing so.” 

“Even the mode of discussion portrays just how opposed to the Catholic mission this lecture series is. When speakers have absolute authority to choose selectively which questions to answer then students have no real power to fight for truth,” Olsson continued. “Everything about this lecture was in opposition to dialogue, and thus discredits the claim that this is about sparking ‘discussion.’”

More information about the Reproductive Justice series and discussions on “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities,” can be found on the Gender Studies website. The next event in the series will take place on April 24, 2023, from 4:30–6:30 pm and is titled, “Laura Briggs Lecture: Taking Children: Why Brackeen v. Haaland? Why Now?”

Ellie Knapp is a sophomore studying management consulting and the Program of Liberal Studies. You may direct any comments or inquiries to, but the only way to guarantee an answer is to offer her free food.

Photo Credit: NPR and

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