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Bette Midler addresses backlash after comments about abortion access criticized as anti-trans

Bette Midler defended herself against online backlash Tuesday after a tweet posted over the weekend sparked criticism on social media, with thousands of users calling her comments anti-transgender and exclusionary.

Midler, who has lent her voice to LGBTQ+ activism in the past and been described as an ally to the community, was met with disappointment from fans and advocacy groups when she seemed to balk at growing calls to use gender-inclusive terms in discussions that involve abortion access.

"WOMEN OF THE WORLD! We are being stripped of our rights over our bodies, our lives and even of our name!" the artist tweeted on Sunday. "They don't call us 'women' anymore; they call us 'birthing people' or 'menstruators,' and even 'people with vaginas'! Don't let them erase you! Every human on earth owes you!"

The message came less than two weeks after the Supreme Court ruled to overturn Roe v. Wade — its landmark 1973 case that established the constitutional right to choose to have an abortion — which gave state governments the ability to regulate abortion access within their jurisdictions and triggered a number of bans almost immediately. Alabama lawmakers have already used the court's decision to argue that individual states should also be able to prohibit gender-affirming medical treatments for transgender youth. 

Bette Midler
Honoree singer and actress Bette Midler acknowledges applause as she attends the 44th Kennedy Center Honors at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., on December 5, 2021. SAMUEL CORUM/AFP via Getty Images

Twitter users flooded Midler's post with comments that noted how using phrases like "people who need abortions" or "people who can become pregnant" when talking about abortion, instead of simply saying "women," acknowledges that many people who are transgender or non-binary need access to those health care services too. Some users called Midler a "TERF," or trans exclusionary reactionary feminist, and proposed boycotting her upcoming movie.

Midler addressed the criticism on Tuesday, writing in another tweet that she did not mean to say "anything exclusionary or transphobic." 

"PEOPLE OF THE WORLD! My tweet about women was a response to this fascinating and well written piece in the NYT on July 3rd," she said, linking to an article that disagreed with gender-inclusive language surrounding abortion rights. "There was no intention of anything exclusionary or transphobic in what I said; it wasn't about that."

"I've fought for marginalized people for as long as I can remember," Midler continued. "Still, if you want to dismiss my 60 years of proven love and concern over a tweet that accidentally angered the very people I have always supported and adored, so be it."

The New York Times opinion piece, written by columnist Pamela Paul, suggested that the aftereffects of last month's decision revealed common ground between people on opposite sides of the political spectrum. 

"Because the far right and the far left have found the one thing they can agree on: Women don't count," she wrote. Paul claimed that abortion rights advocates who use inclusive language when speaking about the issue fall within the latter category and said their efforts to remove gendered terms from conversations about reproductive health care perpetuates a "misogynist agenda."

Musician and actor Macy Gray also came under fire this week for sharing anti-trans sentiments during an appearance on the Fox Nation talk series "Piers Morgan Uncensored," where she disputed the legitimacy of gender-affirming surgery and said she believes transgender women should not be allowed to participate in sports. Her comments echoed those used by leaders across the U.S. as states have and continue to implement policies that prevent transgender kids from joining athletic teams and receiving some forms of medical care

Gray said later that her remarks were "grossly misunderstood," adding in a tweet that "there is no bigger admirer of LGBT community" than she is before ultimately reiterating the previous comments to Morgan about people who are transgender.

JK Rowling — who authored the "Harry Potter" franchise and was infamously labeled a "TERF" following accusations of transphobia — supported Gray and Midler on Twitter after both faced similar accusations.

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