Normally, when I’m asked for my opinion on the topic of abortion, I usually just respond with something along the lines of “My opinion is irrelevant, because I can’t have one. I don’t get a say. I’m not capable of getting pregnant.“
Something like that.
Generally, that feels like the right answer. The problem is that it’s an easy, privileged stance to take. Abortion laws will never affect me directly. I can afford to sit out the argument. And I will admit, I frequently use that rationale specifically in order to avoid an argument.
I don’t relish confrontation on topics that elicit strong emotions. I will still engage in confrontation if I feel it’s necessary, but I try to avoid it when possible.
The thing is, it really isn’t possible anymore. Not if I value basic human decency.
In the past few months, several states have begun debating and passing laws that restrict, or even ban abortion outright.
- Ohio, which has already dabbled in gradually more draconian restrictions on women’s bodily autonomy, passed a law in April that forbids abortions after a fetal “heartbeat” is detected, which usually occurs around the five or six week mark. This is well before many women even know they’re pregnant. There are no exceptions for rape or incest. This law gained quite a bit of attention due to the plight of an eleven-year-old child in Ohio who was raped repeatedly and impregnated by an adult man, but would be prohibited from seeking an abortion under this state law.
- The governor of Georgia recently signed a similar law, although that version does include the rape and incest exceptions.
- Kentucky and Mississippi passed identical laws in the last few months. Iowa passed their anti-woman law a year ago.
- Alabama, always innovators, decided to forgo state legislature rules while ramming a near-total abortion ban through. This one makes exceptions only for certain medical situations. Not content with merely oppressing women in need, the law also included provisions that would punish abortion providers with up to 99 years in prison. That part managed to offend the likes of Pat Robertson and Tomi Lahren, two individuals rarely concerned with basic human rights.
- My home state decided to embarrass itself once more by passing an eight week abortion ban, which will almost certainly be signed by the governor in the very near future.
So, it looks like a bunch of places run by Republicans have decided that now is a really good time to tell women they aren’t legally allowed to make decisions about their own bodies. And it appears the true goal is to spark a legal challenge to one or more of these laws, in order to force them through the courts all the way up to the Supreme Court, so we can eventually see a fresh challenge to the precedent set by Roe v. Wade 46 years ago. With the recent additions of anti-abortion hardliners Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the high court, abortion opponents like their odds in the upcoming battle.
That’s what’s been happening. This leads to a few, slightly scattered thoughts of my own:
- “Life begins at conception” has always struck me as a somewhat inane argument. By “life,” what exactly are we referring to? We certainly aren’t talking about human life. When an egg is fertilized, one of several scenarios can occur – only one of which eventually leads to a fully-formed human. At the magic six week “heartbeat” point, the embryo is smaller than a pea, and is visually identical to a similarly-matured chicken embryo. Humans, it should be noted, eat quite a few chickens. Chickens also have hearts, which doesn’t seem to prevent their consumption. Okay, I’m getting off track here…
- As noted above, many women have no clue that they’re pregnant after six weeks. The time between periods fluctuates, sometimes pretty widely, and having a period two weeks late without being pregnant is hardly a record.
- The point of practical fetus viability doesn’t happen until 24 weeks or so into a pregnancy, and even then, it’s a less-than-even proposition until closer to 27 weeks.
- According to the CDC, 91% of abortions are performed in the first trimester, which ends at 13 weeks. This is still during the “it might only be a chicken” phase of development. Second and third trimester abortions usually occur due to medical emergencies.
- A six, eight, or even thirteen week old embryo is not a human being. It could become one, given the right circumstances. But that collection of cells is not imbued with some mystic personhood that grants it autonomy over the human person it happens to being growing in.
The people who describe abortion as “murdering babies” simply don’t have the facts right. Those same people often claim to be motivated by their religious belief, and in the United States, that usually (though not always) means Christianity. Of course, the Bible doesn’t say a thing about abortion. But it does heartily endorse a death penalty for people who… checks notes… commit adultery, curse their parents, let their ox wander free, work on the Sabbath, become a female sorcerer, blaspheme, and engage in fortune telling/astrology.
So, it seems difficult to take Biblical justification seriously on this, or any other modern issue. Of course, the First Amendment also has something to say about religious justification for law, as much as that pains Christian conservatives to hear.
By the way, I’d love to meet a female sorcerer. Sounds badass.
But all this talk is just ignoring the real point. Women in America are people. They are people, and they should enjoy the same right to control their own bodies as men (also people) do. I know this point has been made repeatedly on social media, but its entirely fair to note that the same anti-woman fanatics passing these barbaric laws would throw massive tantrums if someone seriously proposed a law requiring the men who impregnated these women to become the (eventual) child’s legal guardian.
This isn’t about protecting “life,” or unborn children. These laws, and this attempt at reshaping Constitutional precedent, is about asserting control over women. Oh, I’m sure there are those who are sincerely and single-mindedly focused on imaginary dead children, but regardless of motivation, the net effect is the same. 51ish percent of the population will likely soon have fewer rights than the minority. Naturally, some of the lawmakers pushing to limit women’s personal autonomy are happy for the existence of abortion when its personally convenient. But that blatant hypocrisy should enrage everyone even further.
It’s not that I’m “pro-choice.” Labels like that tend to dumb down the conversation. Self-described “pro-life” people are often fine with capital punishment, and many don’t seem to care about public support for needy children after the moment of birth. The label itself is stupid.
What I consider myself is “feminist,” if a label is required. Whatever it is that might be growing inside a woman isn’t mine to control. It doesn’t belong to the state. It doesn’t belong to anyone who isn’t her. It’s part of that individual woman, until the point that it isn’t anymore.
Why is it so hard for some people to recognize the value of the person that’s carrying the amorphous blob of cells that they prefer to cherish? Why does the unformed embryo deserve more rights than the adult human woman?
It’s already horrifying to think about forcing raped children to give birth to the product of that rape. It’s a travesty to think that a woman who is unprepared for a child, emotionally, financially, or in any other way, would be forced to carry that child to birth when she… simply can’t.
This is patriarchal authoritarianism.
Using religion to justify it doesn’t make it better.
Okay, so now here I’m bringing it back to myself. Please forgive the self indulgence.
I have long believed that abortion shouldn’t be a point of political debate. After Roe v. Wade, it should have been settled on the political front, and then should have become a private healthcare concern. When people have tried to get me to talk about the topic, I lean into that perspective. “It’s not my decision, I have no say.”
My avoidance of this debate was my idea of prudence. But it wasn’t that. It was cowardice. I wanted to be able to express my general support for women without taking a real stand.
I still believe I shouldn’t have a say. But that assumes a far more just society than the one we live in now.
I’m a straight, white, middle-class, cisgender male between the age of 30 and 40. Other than not being wealthy, I pretty much enjoy the ultimate level of privilege in American society. If I truly care about the rights about everyone else, it behooves me to not just speak up, but to implore other similarly privileged people to use that privilege they have for something constructive.
My fellow men, we need to start pushing back against this. If we care at all about the rights of the other half of our planet, we need to do what we can to fight this oppression. Our sisters on this planet have just as much right to enjoy life and liberty as we do. Don’t stand on the sideline. Fight with them. Protest. Contact your Congressperson. Vote for pro-equality candidates. Donate to NARAL and Planned Parenthood. Make it socially unacceptable to oppress people who don’t enjoy our privileges. Confront misogyny wherever you see it.
While you’re at it, please confront all other forms of bigotry, too. It’s important to approach this in an intersectional way.
My fellow men, we simply cannot allow the worst of us to oppress women. If we care at all about them, we have to use the advantages we have hoarded for ourselves to make the world more equal. Don’t let some ignorant asshole state legislators push women’s rights back fifty years.
Fight for women. We don’t deserve them if we don’t fight.