Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Men and the Abortion Issue

Today, a guest blogger on Andrew Sullivan's site, named Conor Friedersdorf, posted what Harrogate considers an extremely well-written engagement with the role of men in the abortion rights discourse. Friedersdorf's post responds to the firestorm provoked by a recent piece published by Alternet and entitled "My First Abortion Party.

Friedersdorf (and, to a lesser extent, "My First Abortion Party") attempts to negotiate the abortion issue's intersect between women's rights and the misandry that often impels pop (and academic) feminist discourse.

From "My First Abortion Party"

I saw Maggie’s boyfriend, sitting near the kitchen, wearing rainbow suspenders and looking uncomfortably alone. As it turns out, he had been the object of a lot of vitriol from Maggie’s friends -- women who thought that he should not have had anything to do with the abortion


A few days beforehand, one of her friends had asked her to have the abortion in Ohio. When Maggie insisted on bringing her boyfriend along, the friend told her not to bother coming. Maggie was being shown a great deal of respect, certainly. But she told me she couldn’t help but feel as though her pregnancy had been "hijacked" by women who felt like her inclusion of a man in the decision was weak or wrong.

And then from Friedersdorf:

Without taking any position on abortion itself, I want to interrogate the appropriate role of males, and suggest that progressives especially face some thorny questions. 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.


Immediately followed by:

The woman gets pregnant: "I'm late," she tells her boyfriend. The man, if he wants to keep the sympathy of the audience, says, "What are we going to do?" The "we" signals his mutual responsibility for the circumstance and investment in the process -- and the question mark signifies that he'll pretty much support whatever she decides.

That shit's pretty funny, actually. No stand up comic could have done it better.

And finally:

Given that progressives and feminists are especially invested in pushing back against the notion and reality that rearing children is the province of women, I'd be curious to hear whether they agree with my diagnosis, and how they think these questions ought to be navigated. Is there an inherent tension between the social norms that advance your agenda on reproductive rights, and the ones that better bring about the world you'd like to see more generally?


Anonymous said...

Solon and I were talking about the Andrew Sullivan post last night. It's really complicated, isn't it?

In our family, there was discussion over trying for another pregnancy that in some tiny way might approximate the abortion decision in your post. Solon wanted another baby but, after three years of pregnancy and nursing, I'm really ready for my body to be mine again. Ultimately, although we both had a vote, mine had more weight. Which seems fair, right? But if a woman has even 51% to a man's 49, guess who gets to make the decision?

It seems, especially in a more emotionally charged situation like abortion, like that's the only way. Which sucks.

solon said...

Megs and I discussed this blog post last night. In fact, I may use it in class (Rhetoric of Rights) when discussing Roe and Casey.

The piece is interesting for attempting to include men in the abortion debate. Though I have a few questions about the piece.

First, I do not know what the consensus position is for progressives. This is not a discussed position probably because of the inherent power tensions. While a couple may have equal responsibilities in raising a child, I am not sure if a couple has an equal responsibility or an equal voice during pregnancy. Like other decisions in life that couples face (where to live, how many children to have), this may be a decision where consensus or equal weight in the deliberation process is not possible.

The language of the Supreme Court does not help this issue at all. If Roe discusses the access to abortion and Planned Parenthood v. Casey addresses the fundamental right of liberty and privacy at stake for women, this leaves little room for the role of the partner (i.e. non-carrying member of a relationship) in the debate.

Three quotes from Casey stand out:

"Liberty finds no refuge in a jurisprudence of doubt. Yet 19 years after our holding that the Constitution protects a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy in its early stages, Roe v. Wade (1973), that definition of liberty is still questioned. Joining the respondents as amicus curiae, the United States, as it has done in five other cases in the last decade, again asks us to overrule Roe."

"[i]f the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child."

"The sum of the precedential enquiry to this point shows Roe's underpinnings unweakened in any way affecting its central holding. While it has engendered disapproval, it has not been unworkable. An entire generation has come of age free to assume Roe's concept of liberty in defining the capacity of women to act in society, and to make reproductive decisions; no erosion of principle going to liberty or personal autonomy has left Roe's central holding a doctrinal remnant."

The first quote addresses the fundamental right to reproduction, especially in relation to government intrusion and control over the body.

The second reaffirms that abortion is an individual choice regardless of whether or not the individual is single or married.

The third reaffirms choice in relation to a woman's liberty in society.

None of these quotes discuss any responsibility of the male in the debate.

solon said...

Addendum to Megs' post:

Every since she was young, Megs' wanted to adopt because her Grandparents adopted two girls from Korea. In our situation, if we were to have another, the choice would between adopting or having another biological kid.

The Roof Almighty said...

Are you implying that adopted kids aren't biological?

Are they black biomechanical phalluses like the Alien alien to you? Do they tear out of their surrogate mothers' chests and into our American homes?

Scoff...liberal Jew York xenophobia. Always on a bug hunt against the REAL LV-426.

Supadiscomama said...

This seems an impossible issue to resolve. F makes a good point (one that Harrogate has made as well) about the man's financial responsibility for a child that he doesn't want to have--the power is completely in the woman's hands (or uterus). If she doesn't want the kid, she doesn't have to. If she does, she can. Can the man stop her from having an abortion? unlikely. Can he "abort" his own role in the kid's life if she chooses to have the baby? not legally (unless there's some precedent that I'm unfamiliar with).

It's a similar situation with getting pregnant--the woman has to be pregnant, so she gets to say yes or no. Of course, the man can say no...unless the woman is manipulative and sneaky. Oh so complicated!

Either way, the risk of resentment is there. As for the man's own right to choose--I think it's a very valid concern. But I have no ideas for addressing it!

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