Why Liberal Men Have An Obligation To Be Loud About Abortion Rights

by Chris Tognotti

This week provided a particularly stark reminder of the human stakes of the battle over women’s reproductive rights. When a 17-year-old undocumented immigrant teen arrived in the state of Texas earlier this year, fleeing a life rife with violence, she probably never expected to become the focal point of a national controversy about abortion. Her example should serve as a wake-up call: men on the left must unapologetically support abortion rights, just as urgently and vocally as they might speak out on any other issue on the progressive political spectrum.

For years, reproductive rights have been framed primarily in the American body politic as a women’s issue. It’s not hard to see why: Just as a progressive stance on abortion would dictate that nobody but the pregnant woman should get to decide what decision she makes, so too is it treated as an issue that chiefly matters for, and is advocated for, women themselves.

But that's no excuse for men to bite their tongues, neither for moral nor practical reasons.

Firstly, a good operating principle is that the people most oppressed and victimized by domineering institutions shouldn’t be the only people exerting their time and effort fighting for the rights they’re been denied. In practice, however, social justice movements often resemble this, with underserved groups of people fighting, struggling, and in many cases dying in service of their movements. Meanwhile, the most comfortable and cushioned among us have the ability to turn a blind eye.

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That's not solidarity or compassion, it's abdication. It’s long past time for men on the left to make this a paramount, front-burner issue, on totally equal footing with so many other deeply-held leftist positions, like racial justice, class justice, and health care as a human right.

In fact, the cause of reproductive rights must be an inseparable element of the push for universal health care. Any system which perpetuates the current status quo on abortion, in which the Hyde Amendment bars federal funding of them and many states have outright banned the procedure after a certain gestational age (most commonly 20 weeks) is one in which health justice has not been reached.

It’s also true, in raw numerical terms, that the vast majority of anti-abortion laws and restrictions in this country have been brought about through the work of male lawmakers — some of whom have evidenced shockingly little reflection about why a woman would even want an abortion. The U.S. political system has always been, and continues to be, male-dominated; approximately 80 percent of the members of the House of Representatives are men, along with 79 percent of the Senate.

Moreover, the states which have passed 20-week abortion bans, or so-called TRAP laws (targeted regulation of abortion providers) all have male-dominated state legislatures. There really is not a place in the entire country where this isn’t true. As such, both for practical and symbolic reasons, it’s immensely important that men stand up to this surging anti-abortion tide alongside pro-choice women, and do so full-throatedly, and without apology.

After all, if anything’s been laid bare by the election of Donald Trump, it’s that speaking out about something in a forceful, unambiguous, and unqualified way can be hugely powerful.

Any time you hear the words “pro-life,” in other words, I hear “quick, handcuff her to the bed.” It’s happened elsewhere. It can happen here.

So, here’s a message that should be pretty simple to understand: The government should not and must not force women to give birth at the barrel of a gun.

Because that’s what it comes down to when you start talking about criminalizing abortion. In societies where this actually happens, like Bolivia, it doesn’t take long for armed officers of the state to start chaining women to their hospital beds. It’s a waking nightmare. It’s not unfair to say that, considering the conservative movement that’s constantly fought to slash reproductive rights every bit as deeply as they can for years, that this is the logical extreme such forces will take us towards.

Any time you hear the words “pro-life,” in other words, I hear “quick, handcuff her to the bed.” It’s happened elsewhere. It can happen here.

Lastly, it’s vitally important to note that women are not monolithic on the question of abortion. According to polling data from Pew, American women are majority pro-choice, with 59 percent favoring abortion being legal in “all or most cases,” compared to 55 percent of men answering the same.

This speaks to a problem in the current framing of the movement. The popular perception that this is a battle between a hoard of men on one side and a hoard of women on the other, although that’s how it manifests in the halls of power thanks to our male-dominated politics, isn’t accurate.

When approximately four in ten women believe that abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, it only becomes more imperative for men to stand up and speak out for these rights, so to secure a concrete, durable coalition. Because leaving the most important political fights of the day for someone else to deal with is a dangerous game, especially given how relatively narrow the pro-choice majority currently is, and just how abysmal the alternate reality ― of government-backed, forced childbirth ― would be.