The right to abortion, and access to reproductive care, affects everyone. But, to go out on a crazy limb here, it affects people who can get pregnant somewhat more. That the forthcoming decision to overturn Roe v. Wade will be handed down by one woman and four men is part of what makes it an outrage for the solid American majority that supports the landmark, half-century old ruling. What, ultimately, do Justices Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh know about the lived experience of conception, gestation, childbirth or miscarriage? Nothing!
Nonetheless, it is largely men — not just on the Supreme Court, but in state legislatures and at governor’s desks — turning the anti-abortion agenda into law. And so, perhaps inevitably, the debate around the issue has again drifted away from the women, nonbinary and trans individuals most immediately threatened and toward a question of maddeningly little relevance.
Abortion on demand: Is it good or bad for men?
To engage with the specious idea put forward by this New York Times opinion columnist — that women’s autonomy has made men lonely and purposeless or whatever — is to lose the thread. Dudes are unemployed because they’re not dads? The hell are you saying? But how men benefit from abortion, as laid out in the quoted tweet, is also not particularly germane to the argument we should be having. Yeah, it’s nice to have research confirming that guys who avoid fathering children in adolescence thanks to a partner’s abortion enjoy better socioeconomic outcomes in the long term. For the moment, however, we can worry that the dismantling of Roe will force more women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, push them to make extreme decisions to protect their bodies and land many in poverty? That seems pretty important.
On the liberal side, the “what this means for men” framework is often well-intentioned — you want to believe that anti-abortion guys can be reasoned with. Show them what they have to lose, and maybe they’ll reconsider. Unfortunately, that assumes there is any rational thinking behind their stance. There isn’t! It’s a vague “moral” feeling, sometimes an appeal to religion, usually just the impulse to punish and control women. Once you start discussing Roe in terms of its relevance to men, you’re on the same poisoned ground where the male judges and legislators and Ross Douthats of this country have staged their grandiose philosophical objections to it, those treatises that lack any meaningful connection to obstetric medicine.
Forgive me if I tend to assume that Brett fucking Kavanaugh won’t be swayed by reminders that countless men have lived better lives thanks to abortion. To these guys, it’s all theory, unmoored from the realities of pain, abuse, disease and death. Those with the power to roll back civil rights are precisely the ones who won’t be hurt by this choice, who cannot begin to acknowledge it hurts anyone. We gain nothing by appealing to their selfishness, which caused the crisis to begin with. The only power is in absolute empathy for those who are bound to suffer the most.
Is the widespread availability of abortion a net positive for straight, cis men? Of course. That’s not even close to the point. What we have to fight for is the privacy, dignity and health of anyone who might someday need one. Losing sight of this fundamental good leads us into digressive stalemates welcomed by the side that is steamrolling our freedoms anyway. The cause is righteous and essential without considering what’s in it for men. Time to start acting that way.