Em-URGE-ing Voices

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Should Men Have a Say in Abortion?

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September 25, 2014

Over the past few years, I’ve had a lot of conversations about abortion. In fact, a large portion of my life has revolved around abortion issues because of the people in my life and the organizations I work with. As a result of all of these conversations, I’ve heard a lot of different and nuanced opinions on how this issue should be handled. One of these opinions that I think is particularly dangerous is the argument that in order to get an abortion, a woman should have to get the consent of the biological father.

Before I get any farther, I would like to acknowledge that women in heterosexual relationships aren’t the only people who seek abortions. People that identify with any gender along the spectrum might seek abortions. Women who are in relationships with other women might seek abortions. Women who became pregnant while trying to parent by a sperm donor or women who might be pregnant through surrogacy might seek abortions. But, this argument is relatively restricted to the partner of a woman who is seeking an abortion, and whether they should have a say in whether the pregnancy continues.

The reason why I find this particular topic to be so troubling is that I know of many people who identify as pro-choice, and who are otherwise rational people when it comes to topics like this, advocating for men being able to have influence over their pregnant partner’s decision. And I think there are several reasons for this.

One reason is that at face value a lot of these arguments make some sense. Some people feel compelled to constantly tell us that women can “get out” of the consequences of having sex, which apparently they feel should be forced parenthood, while men cannot. Once a man has had sex, however irresponsible, he is to be saddled with fatherhood whether he likes it or not. The argument is that if men can be compelled to pay child support, women should have to consult them with whatever decision she wants to make.

The problem I see with this is that it is ignoring the very real differences in the responsibilities put on men and women when parenthood is considered. The most obvious difference is that the woman has to actually carry and birth the child. The risk of bodily harm a woman undertakes by deciding to continue a pregnancy is literally incomparable to the risk a man undertakes in the same endeavor. The man’s burden can only possibly be a financial one, and in many cases that isn’t even enforceable. And by the same token, women take on at least an equal financial responsibility for child-rearing, if not significantly more in most cases. Comparing the risk a man takes by continuing a pregnancy to the risk a woman takes is arrogant and short-sighted.

Another reason why people believe this line of thinking is that they feel it is just the respectful thing to do for a woman to consult her partner before ending her pregnancy. And once again, at face value, that makes some sense. A woman who is in a loving, respectful relationship with a partner that supports her might choose to consult that partner when making that decision. And that is fine, because that is what she wants to do.

But adding any legal requirement for such consent does not change her situation. She will likely seek her partner’s counsel regardless of whether we require it by law. Adding this requirement would, however, drastically change the situations of other women. We know many women who may seek abortion are in abusive relationships. We know many women who may seek abortion have been raped and do not want to report it. We know many women who may seek abortion might not know the biological father’s identity. When we look too closely at the idealized relationship to make our policy, we ignore the very real situations other women find themselves in. We would only be opening up more potential for abuse and forced parenthood by enacting legislation such as this.

There are people out there pushing for this legislation to be enacted. A bill was introduced in Ohio in 2009 that would have required the father to give written permission for a woman to have an abortion. If the biological father couldn’t be found, the woman would not be allowed to undergo the procedure. And there are people advocating for this!

It is also worth mentioning that spousal notification, one of the restrictions considered in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), was the only restriction that the Supreme Court struck down as an “undue burden” on the woman seeking an abortion, because the Court recognized the potential for abuse.

Many years ago, these arguments might have swayed me in favor of something like this. After all, it does seem like it promotes “equal rights” doesn’t it? But younger me didn’t have the same understanding of privilege, or of the power dynamics of gender in our society. I wouldn’t have fully understood how pervasive of a problem domestic violence is, or had exposure to some men tampering with their partner’s birth control to get her pregnant so she would be dependent on him. We have some very real issues with gender and relationships in our society, and to make policy based on this hetero-normative, idealistic view of relationships only serves to hurt more people.

It makes sense that men might feel emotion knowing that their potential children might be aborted. They might feel powerless, which they are not used to, upon being told they have no say in the matter. But this issue isn’t about the feelings of men. This issue is about a woman’s ability to control her own reproductive decisions. And that isn’t possible if we allow men to have a say in whether a woman can have an abortion.

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