The Abortion Debate: What's the Role of Men?, Ctd

by Patrick Appel

A reader writes:

Thanks Conor F. for highlighting what seems to me to be a clear gap in the debate on abortion. I had the same thought myself about a decade ago when a law undergraduate at Cambridge. I wrote a thesis for my finals entitled "Should Fathers Have Any Rights In Abortion Law?". My interest in this topic stemmed from a general desire to understand my own feelings towards abortion at a time when I was moving away from Catholicism and towards atheism, and an overwhelming feeling that there was something manifestly unjust in a father of an unborn child having no say whatsoever in whether that child lived or died.

With some regret, the conclusion I reached was that whilst (of course) in the ideal liberal world you describe any decision like this should be taken by a couple together, enforcing any sort of formal role for a father would be both impractical and unwise. This is because any decision taken affecting the welfare of a fetus also affects the body of the mother. Anything medically done to the mother without her consent is an assault. What if a mother is compelled, as a result of the father's wishes and her own, to carry a child to term and then dies in childbirth? If nothing else, the possibilities for litigation are endless. On a practical note, interfering the genuine choice of the mother in this situation (whether because of the father's wishes or society's) will plainly lead such women back into the dangerous world of backstreet abortions.

The time when this debate becomes interesting, in my view, is when science reaches a point where a fetus can be brought to term outside of a women's body. With present progress in medicine I do not think this is a purely science fiction "what if"? In that situation the women's' right to make decisions on what happens to her body falls away and much more careful consideration would have to be given to the legal status and rights of the fetus and the father than is the case now.

At present, I regret that my view fathers are in a manifestly unfair position, but that trying to do anything about this formally would cause more problems than it solves.

Another reader gets personal:

About 16 years ago, I was dumped from a serious relationship. I was heartbroken and it took me years to recover. About three weeks after the break up, she approached me and told me she had, just after the break up, discovered she was pregnant and went ahead and had the abortion. She wanted to me to pay for half, even though she had insurance, because that would be "fair". Of course, I paid.

I support a woman's right to make that choice, but it still really hurt that she never consulted me beforehand. There were cruelties: around this time she took up with a "friend" of mine, and they were never honest with me about it or the chronology. They eventually married and had one child of which I know. I wish I could say I wish them well, but I am still bitter. Rationally, I know I am better off that I didn't marry such a cruel, selfish, and inconsiderate person. But it still hurts, even 16 years later.

The abortion is just one element in my sad little tale, but I did and do think it was wrong of her to tell me after the fact. At the time, it just made me even more miserable. I'm not saying I had a right to input on the decision, but I think I was due a little consideration.

Ah, well. Ghosts of the past.

Another reader gets practical:

Raising money for an abortion is reasonable and to be expected. Even if you go to Planned Parenthood, they're not cheap, and unless you live in a major metropolitan area, you've got to include food and gas money, and probably a hotel room, since after having an abortion, you probably don't want to hop right back in the car for a two to eight hour drive, depending on how far out in the boonies you are. I always figured that as a gay man, I'd be far from the action on this debate, but in college, my straight best friend got his girlfriend pregnant, and I ended up paying for her abortion. From Roswell, New Mexico, it was a four hour drive in any direction to the nearest clinic (Albuquerque, Santa Fe, El Paso, maybe Las Cruces or Lubbock), so they chose the money saving option and went to El Paso, crossed the border into Juarez, and saved a couple hundred bucks.


Conor, you write:

"As I understand it, the most common position on the left is that how a woman deals with an unwanted pregnancy is a choice to be made by her alone. At the same time, the progressives I know subscribe to a partnership ideal in relationships, wherein major life decisions between couples are made via a process of mutually supportive dialogue, stripped of archaic gender norms whenever possible."

You seem to argue in good faith, so I'll spare the snark, but those two ideals aren't in opposition. The final -choice- is hers alone, but that doesn't preclude dialogue, or even argument, tantrums, graphs, etc.

Try this: "As I understand it, the most common position on the left is that how a woman deals with an unwanted DOUBLE-CHIN is a choice to be made by her alone. At the same time, the progressives I know subscribe to a partnership ideal in relationships ..." The couple might talk about her impending plastic surgery, they might fight and argue and wheedle--but in the end, the woman decides what elective medical procedures she undergoes. It's really that simple.

And it works both ways. "As I understand it, the most common position on the left is that how a man deals with a VASECTOMY is a choice to be made by him alone." My wife and I are currently arguing this one. I listen to her opinion because I respect nobody more--just like she'd listen to me, in the case of an abortion. But it's still my decision.

One more:

The only proper response from a man when his lover tells him she's pregnant is: "Okay, do you want to do it? Because if you do, I'm right here."  Any man who says, "What are we going to do about it?" sounds like a jerk incapable of leadership or support. Any woman who hears a man say that is going to want to spontaneously abort as soon as she hears it.

It's unfair, but heterosexual relations are unfair, and a man's responsibility should always be up front: "If you ever get pregnant, I will stand up and meet my responsibilities, period."  A woman has to know that, because otherwise she will be hesitant to go through with it.  But even though a man has to be willing to follow through just as described, if the woman does want to abort, he has to let her do that, too.  Like I said, unfair.  Of course, straight couples where the woman goes ahead and has an abortion frequently break up, but, that's another issue.