In the wake of the Alabama Heartbeat bill social media has been awash with the abortion debate. With other states moving to limit, or poised to follow suit with Alabama, the entire political and legal structure of the nation seems gearing up for some sort of legal death match on the abortion issue. It seems that the people on the ground are noticing this trend, and the debates in the public forum (a.k.a. the internet) are heating up accordingly.
I have been a largely passive bystander for the abortion debate most of my life. This is not due to lack of conviction on the topic. I am firmly pro-life, and anti-abortion (not the same thing). It has been more due to the experience that minds are not changed online, or at least very rarely. Add to that the level of vituperation in the current round of culture war, and it’s small wonder that I see no advantage, and much disadvantage, in letting myself get sucked into that melee.
That being said, there is one specific argument current in this debate that I do want to address, one that has always been around, but which seems to be getting thrown out more frequently and more fiercely these days than I remember it. These are the variations on the theme of “No Uterus, No Opinion.”
This argument takes a few forms, the most popular that I have seen being, “Why should a bunch of old white men tell women what to do with their bodies?” and “restriction of abortion is all about subjugation of women to men.” In its essence it rebrands abortion as a strictly women’s only issue about which men have no right to have an opinion, since the only possible motivation a man can have for caring about the subject at all is to take rights away from women and keep them oppressed under the patriarchy.
There are a few problems with this argument, however.
- It ignores the fact that women are almost exactly as likely to be prolife as they are to be pro-abortion.
- Specifically, Kay Ivey, the governor of Alabama, expressed her opinion when she signed the bill into law. Is it valid simply because she meets the uterus requirement.
- “No Uterus, No Opinion” mischaracterizes the pro-life argument by trying to make it a bodily autonomy issue. It is not, and never has been, a bodily autonomy issue. There are many women’s issues that are, the prime example being contraception. I believe artificial contraception is both wrong and unhealthy. However, I do not campaign against it, because it is a bodily autonomy issue. The prolife position, never (to my mind) adequately answered by pro-abortion people, is that because the human fetus is a separate human life form, it is a human rights issue. That is, bodily autonomy ends the moment you start infringe on another person’s rights.
- For the fourth reason I would like to quote in full a comment I read on facebook:
I mean, are you even remotely aware of how difficult it is to be pregnant? Your talking about how the wo lives, mother and child, are completely separate…but they arent, are they? They are attached. And one of feeding off the other. While the baby grows and changes, so does the mother. The mothers body physically changes, and im not talking stretch marks. After each pregnancy, i had to learn my own body all over again. My hair changed. My skin. The food i like to eat. I have seasonal allergies that i never had before. I have 50 lbs PER KID that will simply not come off no matter what i do. I have PERMANENT hemmorroids. Ill stop there, because it gets worse.
Carrying my children felt like i had a tape worm or some other foreign body sucking every ounce of energy i had. I was sick for months, and never felt healthy or “right” the whole time.Anonymous.
I appreciate the author’s honesty, and acknowledge the truth of what she says. Indeed, she understated her case. Let’s not forget the risk of death, small though real, the risk of eclampsia, and the fact that a woman’s risk of experience domestic violence goes up when she is pregnant.
All of these boil down to saying, “As a man, you don’t understand just how much sacrifice and suffering is involved in being a mother. Therefore, you have nothing to say if I choose to opt out of motherhood.”
This sounds well enough, until you look at the corollary, which is that no woman can ever truly understand how hard it is to be a father.
It is not my purpose to compare who has it harder. The question is both meaningless and irrelevant. My point is that fatherhood and motherhood are reciprocal but separate realities each with their own sacrifices which are not the same as those of the other. A man may, in a sense, enter into his wife’s sufferings as a mother, only if he loves her very deeply, and even then there will still be some aspect of them that he will never fully share. In the same way a woman may enter into a man’s sufferings as a father, if at all, only by loving and respecting him, but they will always remain a little separate.
What does this have to do with abortion? Well, what if a man were to get a woman pregnant and then say, “But it’s easy for you as a woman, you have biology to help. You have no idea how hard it is to be a father, what I would have to sacrifice. Therefore you have nothing to say if I choose to opt out of fatherhood.” Do you think he could say, “No penis, no opinion?” Do you really think that the fact that she cannot fully appreciate his subjective experience renders her “Man the f— up!” less valid?
It is no more valid for a woman to opt out of motherhood than it is for a man to opt out of fatherhood. To be clear, I am well aware that I am equating absentee fatherhood with killing children in the womb, and I stand by that comparison. In fact, I believe a priority for pro-life men should focus, not specifically on anti-abortion legislation, but on pro-fatherhood cultural change. It has been a very long time since we have seen a world full of fathers. I wonder if it ever does happen, will we suddenly find that it is spontaneously also a world without abortion.