The male political candidates in 2016 breathed out a few words about “a woman’s right to choose,” but the bulk of discussion about abortion fell to Hillary Clinton, as if only women were qualified to speak on the subject. But if one-third of American women have had an abortion, then one-third of American men have had one, too, and it’s time they spoke up.
Almost eighty percent of abortions take place before eight weeks, when the embryo is the size of a small bean. The woman may have suffered some morning sickness or minor discomfort, but the financial, personal, educational, familial, professional, and religious aspects of abortion would be equally shared between the pregnant man and the pregnant woman in an honorable relationship. I don’t hear men who are party to an abortion accused of murder. Do their priests threaten them with excommunication? Are men escorting their partners to an abortion heckled and assaulted as they enter the clinic? Does the silence of men indicate that they quickly put the experience behind them, or are they taking the easy road to avoid accusations and attacks?
Men hold the cards, since they comprise a majority in most legislatures. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know which men in each legislature had been party to abortions? They aren’t the province of atheists and pagans, 13% of women who had one are evangelical Protestant and 24% are Catholic, so religious affiliation is no sure indication. Callous dismissal of abortion as an irresponsible abomination might be thrown around less often if male legislators owned up to their own experiences. When will a man stand up in Texas, as a female gubernatorial candidate recently did, and tell his story? His anguish was surely no less painful than his wife’s.
The nine men on the Supreme Court gave the decision-making power to other men in Article XI of Roe v. Wade, which states: “…the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman’s attending physician.” In 1973, almost all “physicians” were male. Liberals campaigning for “a woman’s right to choose” are hoping to prevent the overturning of Roe v. Wade when, in fact, they should be requesting a rewrite, taking out the middleman physician to give power to the woman herself.
Subsequent rulings of the Supreme Court have weighed the rights of the pregnant woman against the rights of the pregnant man (as opposed to the physician), and have favored the woman, because it is she who would be taking the risks if the pregnancy were carried to term. The woman’s decision-making power would be more secure if the original law were rewritten in her favor.
It is likely that at least one of the nine justices who ruled in Roe had been party to an abortion. If the one-in-three statistic played out, three of them would have been. One hopes that the affected justice(s) showed more compassion than men who had never faced the consequences of a crisis pregnancy. A man cannot have the power to force a woman either to carry a pregnancy to term, or to have an abortion, but that does not mean that the men are immune to the heavy thoughts that a crisis pregnancy engenders.
I had an abortion in 1961, twelve years before Roe v. Wade. When the doctor gave me the bad news, my boyfriend was in Innsbruck, Austria. I wrote him, and he wrote back: “I’m about to leave for a bow-and-arrow hunting trip behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany, and I don’t know when, if ever, I’ll get back. Good luck.” I saw him several months later, and he was solicitous about my health, but he had missed the hard part, and never offered to pay for half of my expenses.
I have recently learned that he, let’s call him Frank, now lives in Hawaii, in a town which I visit from time to time. What would happen if I walked into his business and said, “Hi Frank. Remember me?”
Would he remember me? How would he feel? Does he occasionally ruminate for a quick second that he might have had a child who would be 58 years old now? Has he ever mentioned his part in an abortion to anyone else? His wife? Is he still glad that I didn’t have the child and give it up for adoption, which would mean he had a son or daughter somewhere? Would he say he was sorry for abandoning me? Has he ever wondered where I got the necessary five hundred dollars – a lot of money in 1961? Did he wonder who drove me to the abortionist’s office and waited for hours till I came out? Did his feelings about having children, or, for that matter, having sex, change after this?
I don’t know what I will do the next time I’m in Hawaii. I’m seventy-five years old now and have nothing to lose – I might just pop in on Frank. He is one of the few men I know who I am sure has been party to an abortion. I would tell him that I never have regrets, and that I worry about the young women whose safety is now at risk. I would ask him whether, knowing how easy it is to slip into a crisis pregnancy, he has these same worries.
Frank clearly thought abortion was a “women’s issue” in 1961. I’d ask him if, after fifty-eight years of reflection, he still thought so.
Tags: 2016 election, abortion decisions, the morality of abortion, women's health, women's liberation