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Allow to be, or not allow to be

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It’s a subject in which many men don’t feel they have a say. It’s a subject that many people openly say that men don’t belong in. Yet it remains a manifesto item of the only political party in the English-speaking world to specifically stand up for men and boys, Justice for Men & Boys.

Men on how it changed their lives

“I didn’t really feel like I had a right to feel any kind of outward emotion about it,” 35-year-old Jon Pollock, a health and safety manager in civil construction, is telling me. There’s a tangible apprehension in his voice – he’s choosing words carefully – because we’re talking about something that he’s only shared with three other people in the last decade. Something that is not for his kind, if you listen to public discourse. “I feel like I’m intruding on something that isn’t mine to talk about,” he says, suddenly.

Zoe Beaty

We’re talking about abortion. 

Men are used to the question of “to be, or not to be”. Worldwide, around 80% of suicides are men. Too many of them are so desperate that not to be seems an easier solution. Many kill themselves over the loss of contact with children. Sometimes, those children were never born.

For centuries, nobody thought about whether abortion was even legal. Generally, it was. In the UK, for example, it was legal until, as Zoe Beaty writes:

… in 1861 it was outlawed with the introduction of a new law: the Offences Against the Person Act. But of course, unwanted pregnancies didn’t disappear. 

As maternal deaths due to illegal abortion rose, the case for legalising the procedure grew. Control over fertility and reproductive rights became part of the women’s movement and, eventually, in 1967, the women speaking out for those who had lost their lives or livelihoods prevailed. The Abortion Act was introduced and set a precedent that lingers: that abortion is, by and large, a ‘women’s issue’. 

But it isn’t quite that easy. Women have choices when they create a child with a man:

  • They can abort the child, killing it and any hope the man had;
  • They can birth the child and have it adopted, regardless of the father’s wishes;
  • They can birth the child and keep it, making the father liable for up to $¼m over the child’s lifetime.

Men have the following choice when they create a child with a woman:

  • Go along with whatever the woman wants.

With luck, the man will be allowed to have a say in what will happen. Often, he won’t.

We’re comfortable with discussing the powerful impact of abortion rights on women. The legalisation of abortion in Britain has changed – and undoubtedly saved – millions of women’s lives. But men’s lives and their futures have been positively altered by it too. We just don’t talk about it. 

Yet men should be talking about it. They should be working out for themselves whether it is right to allow, or not to allow, an abortion. They should understand their inevitable part in it, and know whether they should have a say.

Justice for Men & Boys calls for greater responsibility from women, with an implication that men, too, need to step up to the responsibility for when they help create a child. They are aware of the number of men who regret having had a child killed and the damaging effect this has on men and their interest in trying to create a family.

When the Abortion Act (1967) was passed, the British public was assured it wouldn’t lead to ‘abortion on demand’. That assurance has proved hollow.
…There’s no evidence to support the thesis that abortion reduces the risk to mental health of women with an unwanted pregnancy, and clinical trials to investigate the matter would, of course, be highly unethical.
There is, however, some evidence to suggest that abortion itself increases the risk to mental health, so medical practitioners who authorize abortions on mental health risk grounds are doing so in the knowledge that there’s no body of research to support their authorizations.

Justice for Men & Boys manifesto

Will, writing on Medium, clearly regrets the decision:

When they administered the sedative, my heart dropped. The moment my girlfriend moaned was the moment I knew what we were doing was wrong. I wanted to take her in my arms and carry her out. I wanted to shove the doctor against the wall. But I didn’t. I was paralyzed. I thought it was too late. I stayed kneeling beside that cold hard chair, holding her hand and stroking her arm. My breathing was labored. Her head was rolling around. I was watching her, but out of the corner of my eye I saw the doctor begin working her suction device in. I started shaking when I realized what it was. Every time my girlfriend moaned, a shock wave ripped through my body. I knew this was wrong. I wanted to stop it. I was a coward. I stayed paralyzed where I was.

A Man’s Abortion Regret

Even William Collins, known much more for his incisive investigation on gender issues, showed emotion on this matter:

It’s no longer about men’s rights; it’s about children’s rights.
It has been apparent for some time that the feminists set women ahead of children.
I thought I couldn’t get any more implacably opposed to feminism. It seems I was wrong.
…when it comes to killing babies, there can be no clearer departure from an evolutionary optimum: no clearer indication that feminism has subverted and invalidated the proxy status of women.

William Collins
Women Trump Children?

But that is still looking at it very much from the woman’s angle.

Should men have the right to control their reproductive lives and financial futures as women do? If a woman decides to keep a child that a man doesn’t want, is his labour over the next 18 years to pay for the upkeep of that child to be ignored? There’s a word we have for making someone work for someone else, without any say in the matter: slavery.

Should men be able to opt-out of fatherhood?

Whatever feminists will try to say about the sexes being equal, there can little doubt for most of us that reproductive rights for men and women must be different, since the involvement in reproduction is so different. But can a woman’s right to abortion be matched by a man’s right to reject fatherhood?

This form of ‘paper abortion’ as it is sometimes called, has been mooted for some time, and is gaining popularity. As Vice Magazine report:

A woman can choose whether to have an abortion to keep the child, without the man involved interfering with her choice. However, if she does decide to keep the child, the man should have the right to choose whether he wants to become a father and take on the legal rights and responsibilities that come with that. Both should be able to decide what they want to do, based on their own individual circumstances and beliefs, and neither should be able to interfere with the other person’s decision. Essentially, reproductive equality and autonomy, for both genders.

The way this would work in practice is a little murkier. Frances Goldscheider, a now-retired sociology professor at Brown University, was one of the first academics to put forward a proposal for what she called a “financial abortion.” It would work something like this: A man would be notified when a child was accidentally conceived, and he would have the opportunity to decide whether or not to undertake the legal rights and responsibilities of parenthood. The decision would need to be made in a short window of time and once the man had made his decision, he would be bound by it for life. This means a guy couldn’t decide to opt out of fatherhood a few years down the track when it no longer suited him. The decision would also be recorded legally—perhaps on the child’s birth certificate, or in a court order.

Zoë Lawton

Whether you call it paper abortion or financial abortion, it still leaves the control in the woman’s hands. It’s still her call. There’s really no way around that one unless some pre-existing agreement (such as marriage in some countries) that gives the man a legal right to have a say. Because unless a man has a say, we can’t be surprised that he doesn’t want much to do with the whole risky family idea.

Meanwhile, the debate is heating up. Men have until recently largely only been seen on the anti-abortion side. Now, the media is deliberately trying to find men who support abortion.

Pro-life group Silent No More Awareness Campaign compiles thousands of testimonies from women and men expressing remorse and regret from abortion. Those include stories from fathers.
One of them, named Scott, wrote, “I started drinking deliberately rather than casually at this time, hoping the awareness of the life we had conceived would disappear like the pregnancy had. But it did not. It never went away.”

The media are right: Both men and women should speak up about abortion. But in delivering that message, they have a responsibility to listen to the voices that are different from their own, rather than silencing them.

Katie Yoder

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