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Why men should have no say on abortion

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Silhouettes of women with the title in cursive font "Why men should have no say in abortion"
By Barbara G. Walker
Contributing Writer
Freedom From Religion Foundation

This week would have been the 51st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion but was sadly overturned two years ago. So, it is important to reiterate why men should have no say on the issue.

Matters of birth control and abortion should be controlled by women — because only women can fully comprehend how motherhood radically alters a woman’s life. The reasons behind this fact are not merely cultural or social. They come from a fundamental physical phenomenon that underlies the very process of evolution on this planet.

Growing up, I was never particularly drawn to babies. In some ways, I found them rather repellent. I thought puppies and kittens were much cuter and more cuddly. But during the process of giving birth, a complex cocktail of hormones (still not completely understood by medical science) so affected my body and brain that I instantly knew I would give my life to protect this odd little critter that I had never seen before that moment. The hormones not only bring on lactation and other bodily changes; they alter one’s whole mentality.

It is said that women fall in love with their babies. This is not a human phenomenon only. It is seen in every mammalian species and also in birds, some reptiles and even lower animals. As surely as a spider knows how to create its web, a mother knows how to care for helpless offspring.

Males do not usually display similar behavior. In some species, males will even kill the offspring if the mother isn’t around. The general rule is that males compete, females nurture. This works to improve the species, because only the stronger, healthier males get to breed after winning their rutting battles, or females choose the fitter males. That’s why nature encourages males to strut and show off for potential mates.

In human terms, this also explains why patriarchal societies tend to become cruel and warlike. In making war, fathers are willing to sacrifice sons, as in the example of the father-god himself. But generally, mothers are not willing to sacrifice anyone’s children, especially not their own. The prehistoric matriarchal societies were generally peaceful because the laws of moral right and wrong were made by the mothers.

Instinctual mothering behavior, even more than sexual behavior, is the fundamental root of ongoing evolution. Without its essential assistance, there could be no life forms much higher than amoebas. The more evolved and complex the animal, the weaker and more helpless its young tend to be. Humans are weakest of all, requiring many years of nurture and training before they can even begin to fend for themselves.

The physical phenomenon is beyond the comprehension of men even if they enjoy fatherhood in a secondary sort of way. It means that giving birth causes a radical change in a woman’s life, demanding a complete change in emotional and behavior patterns. Even if she doesn’t keep the baby, she has been altered and must overcome the feelings that are created by those hormones. If she does keep the baby, her whole lifestyle must change to accommodate new demands and responsibilities, which apply not just at the time of giving birth but for the rest of her life.

That is why the matter of abortion should belong to women and should never be dependent on any decisions of all-male groups of legislators. Patriarchal religious groups are particularly unsuitable, because of their radically misogynous history. Their deliberate insistence on the bearing of unwanted children was one more means of enslaving women while increasing the population of their adherents. No man, but a woman can decide whether she is physically, emotionally, and economically prepared to undertake this — the most basic and demanding role among life forms in general.

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7 Responses

  1. A am a fan of Ms. Walker. Her books have made good presents for my 4 children, especially my daughter. Which is why I found this article so disappointing. I share the opinions already eloquently expressed and need not pile on. But I will add that I had a wonderful Aunt that died at the age of 23 shortly after enduring a desperate abortion procedure — she had already giving birth to five children and was mentally, physically and financially unable to endure a sixth. The “midwife” was charged with murder. This was in 1948, and it was a big, scandalous story in the Chicago Tribune at the time. According to Ms. Walker, I have no right to express my views on this topic, and should sit silently while a bible-thumping, screaming woman tells me my Aunt deserves to rot in hell.
    One last thought, for Ms. Walker and anyone else who belittles a father’s nurturing instincts — a coincidentally wonderful article in today’s Chicago Sun Times is worth reading:

    1. Your feelings may be expressed, as an opinion. That is NOT the same thing as having any authority to make a decision for a woman, whether as a husband, a friend, or a legislator. “Having a say” is pretty universally understood to mean “having the right to give or withhold permission” …which you do not have now, and you did not have then.

  2. While I agree with the author’s essential point in this article, I am a little shocked at the simplistic, stereotypical portrayal of men that the author employs. It’s unfortunate, as this rhetoric is unnecessary to make her case.

    First off, yes of course everyone knows that men are often more violent than women. And that there are chauvinistic, misogynistic men out there. And that religious chicanery has been used to oppress women for centuries. I think we agree that regardless of the justification used for their bigotry these men (and female religious zealots too) must no longer be allowed to abuse and subjugate women.

    But those bad men aren’t all men. Many men are not the sort of crude caricature of unevolved brutality that the author depicts, they are actually caring, sensitive humans to whom fatherhood means a great deal. No, the man hasn’t carried the child in his body, so there is an obvious difference in the experience of becoming a parent for men and women. But to dismiss the man’s attachment to the child as some sort of trivial spectator sport, to grudgingly say that, well OK, perhaps he might happen to “enjoy” fatherhood in a “secondary sort of way” is demeaning and unjustified.

    Men may not face the same hormonal adjustments as women, which I’m sure are truly powerful, but becoming a father can also completely change a man’s life, also with the corresponding need to “accommodate new demands and responsibilities”. If we’re going to trade in stereotypes, aren’t women supposed to be more empathetic than men? I see little of that here.

    With all that said, in the end I do fully agree that the decision to have, or not to have, an abortion must rest solely with the mother. Obviously, if the potential parents disagree on the question, then someone will have to end up unhappy. Sadly, that person will have to be the father. There is no other way. A woman cannot be forced to bear a child she doesn’t want, and she cannot be forced to abort a child she does want. And she cannot be pressured to do something against her will. It’s the woman’s body. It’s that simple.

    So please don’t make the argument by pigeonholing men this way. It’s not necessary and frankly not helpful.

    1. Nice , thoughtful response but I’m afraid Barbara really knows what she is taking about. Women have always and continue to be left holding the bag or should I say baby. Where are all these wonderful caring, sensitive men when the going gets rough? I know there are some who stick with it but I have wondered for quite some time why the “father” is not tracked down and convinced to participate for the long haul.
      You seem like one of the good ones; spread the word to your gender, please.

  3. BW1: Matters of birth control and abortion should be controlled by women — because only women can fully comprehend how motherhood radically alters a woman’s life.
    GW1: Full disclosure, I am a man. This moral rule proposed by Ms. Walker is irrational, immoral, ridiculous, and misandrous! Nobody can “fully comprehend” the experience of another person, whether they happen to be male, female, or other. Control over moral rules and laws should never require the ability to “fully comprehend” the experience of others. What a silly idea! That is impossible from the start.

    GW1: Try this thought experiment: A woman kicks a man in the testicles for no good reason. The victim says “I’m calling the police. You should go to prison for five years.” The offender says “Nonsense. I should not go to prison at all. You had it coming.” A bystander man says to the woman offender “Shut your damn mouth. The consequences of kicking men in the testicles should be controlled by men – because only men can fully comprehend what it is like to be kicked there.” Is the bystander’s opinion correct? Of course not! It is a ridiculous opinion, just as Ms. Water’s opinion is.

    BW1: It is said that women fall in love with their babies.
    GW1: Yes, it is said. But it is also said that fathers fall in love with their babies. This is not just a mother thing. Mothers and fathers fall in love with their babies.

    BW1: Males do not usually display similar behavior.
    GW1: Fathers don’t suckle their babies, but they display most of the other loving and caring behaviors.

    BW1: The general rule is that males compete, females nurture.
    GW1: Ms. Walker is building her case on biological determinism. She makes the thinking error of the “genetic fallacy”.

    BW1: The physical phenomenon is beyond the comprehension of men even if they enjoy fatherhood in a secondary sort of way.
    GW1: The physical phenomenon of men is beyond the comprehension of women even if they enjoy parenthood in a different way from men.

    BW1: That is why the matter of abortion should belong to women and should never be dependent on any decisions of all-male groups of legislators.
    GW1: The first claim here is false and the second claim here is true. The matter of the morality and legality of abortion should belong to all adult citizens (male, female, and other) within a society. In a representative democracy, legislators are selected by the voting of all adult citizens. They are charged with making the laws regarding abortion. To suggest that male legislators should be disqualified from making laws about abortion and that only women legislators should make those laws is preposterous! Ms. Waters should know better.

    BW1: No man, but a woman can decide whether she is physically, emotionally, and economically prepared to undertake this — the most basic and demanding role among life forms in general.
    GW1: A woman can decide this, but should she decide this? Ms. Waters cannot rationally jump from a “can” to a “should” without proper justification, and she has not presented that.
    GW1: Is it possible that a woman could make an error in the decision described here? A medical error? A moral error? A legal error? Of course she could! Guess what? Women are fallible just like men.

    GW1: I strongly disagree with Ms. Walker’s opinion expressed in this essay. In contrast, I believe all adult citizens (male, female, and other) should equally participate in establishing moral rules and laws governing abortion practices within a society. And in individual cases, both the man (father) and the woman (mother) who produced the zygote-embryo-fetus should equally participate in the hard decision to abort or retain this new human organism, while making their decision within the boundaries of correct moral rules and correct laws of the society and humanity itself.

    GW1: In the past Ms. Walker has been a good feminist and humanist, but here her ideas have gone off the rails! Her misandrous essay is actually going to harm the abortion rights movement. She should retract her position.

  4. FFRF, I don’t know if this was the intention, but the wording and arguments here imply an underlying bio-essentialist, TERFy notion of gender that assumes gender is defined solely by reproductive biology, that gendered biology implies essential character, and that post-agrarian patriarchal gender roles are rooted in evolution. This view is itself a conservative, patriarchal notion of gender.

    We know now that gender is not defined by genitals but by a person’s internal sense of their gender identity and whatever biological substrate underlies that, that gender does not imply essential character, and that patriarchal gender roles are not rooted in evolution, but are artifacts of agrarian social structures.

    There are some men and non-binary people that have the capacity to become pregnant, and they absolutely should have a say in reproductive rights legislation. There are some women and non-binary people who don’t have the capacity to become pregnant, and thus don’t have a direct stake in the issue, but do indirectly as members of a society that must deal with the consequences of reproductive rights legislation.

    We are all agreed that the people who have the capacity to become pregnant should be the ones whose needs are centered in policy making, and it incumbent upon those who do not have the capacity to support the policy and legislative priorities of those who do. What needs to be recognized, however, is that this is not limited to or predicated upon bio-essentialist notions of the gender binary.

    1. Sorry, but I think your comment is irrelevant. All adult citizens within a society should equally participate in formulating the moral rules and the laws governing the practice of abortion. This includes men, women, and others. You have presented a red herring.

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