A Berkeley Law professor accused Sen. Josh Hawley of being transphobic and said his rhetoric could endanger the lives of transgender people during a heated exchange at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, which was held in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last month. 

The exchange began when Hawley asked the professor, Khiara Bridges, to clarify what she meant when she referred to “people with the capacity for pregnancy” during her testimony.

“Would that be women?” Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, asked. 

Here, Hawley is invoking a belief that’s widely seen as transphobic — the idea that only cisgender women, and not transgender men and nonbinary people, are capable of becoming pregnant. Bridges clarified what she meant.

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

Hawley’s initial question was clearly a setup for his next point. 

“So this isn’t really a women’s rights issue,” he said, referring to abortion. 

This is where the exchange became tense. Bridges interrupted Hawley’s line of questioning to point out that, while trans men and nonbinary people are capable of becoming pregnant, the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade would disproportionately impact cis women. When Hawley then asked what Bridges thought the “core” of the issue surrounding abortion was, she accused the senator of being transphobic. 

“I want to recognize that your line of questioning is transphobic,” she said. “And it opens up trans people to violence by not recognizing them.”

The exchange quickly dissolved into a quasi shouting match, with Bridges and Hawley talking over one another. Hawley seemed indignant at Bridges’ suggestion that his questions could lead to violence, and Bridges responded by citing data that one in five trans young people attempted suicide in 2021 — a phenomenon that she attributed to the “injurious” idea that transgender people don’t exist.