2016-06-30
Now that we are knee-deep in another election year, the rhetoric of abortion rights and wrongs is being mouthed by the candidates and their attendant talking heads. And again the "debate" takes on the sound of a Jerry Springer show or big-time wrestling--polarized, bombastic, cartoonish, sad--as we are pulled and pushed into the warring camps of the pro-This or pro-Thaters.

I have a daughter and three sons. I'm in favor of Life, in favor of Choice. Life is not easy. Neither is Choice. My daughter and sons are biologically prepared and equipped for reproduction. Here are their choices as I see them: Each can choose whether or not, with whom, and where, when, and why, to be sexually active. They can choose how much or how little meaning sex has, how much or how little of themselves to invest. They can choose what if any precaution to take against an unplanned pregnancy. But should such preventions fail--if they impregnate or are impregnated--the available choices, up till now commensurate, diverge according to gender lines.

If reproductive choice--the choice as to when one is ready, willing and able to parent--is a good thing, wouldn't it be good for my sons as well?

My daughter may choose to have the baby with or without the consent, cooperation, or co-parenting of the fellow (shall we call him the father now?) who impregnated her. Or she may choose, in light of her life's circumstances, to avail herself of what the courts have declared is her constitutionally guaranteed right to a safe and legal medical procedure that terminates her pregnancy, voids her maternity, aborts the viability of whatever it is inside her womb. No permission or approval is necessary beyond her willingness to exercise her choice. Whatever discomfort--moral or personal or maternal--she might feel does nothing to change the fact that she has acted within her constitutional rights. A pregnancy that resulted from bilateralconsent is legally undone by unilateral choice.

If we uphold my daughter's choice in the matter, we are said to be pro-choice. If we consider the contents of her womb to have a life and interest of its own and that my daughter's choices end where those interests begin, we are said to be pro-life. Either way, we get to choose which team we're on, which side we take, which sign to carry in the endless debate.

But if reproductive choice--the choice as to when one is ready, willing, and able to parent--is a good thing, wouldn't it be good for my sons as well? And if that choice may be exercised after conception, as it currently is by women, then shouldn't men have the same option: to proclaim, legally and unilaterally, the end of their interest in the tissue or fetus or baby (depending on one's team affiliations)?

According to law, paternity, once determined, means fiscal responsibility for 18 years. There is currently, for my sons, no choice in the matter. If they impregnate and the woman chooses to have the child, she has a legal claim against the income of the father. They may, of course, refuse to pay, refuse their paternity, in which case they are "deadbeat dads" or some other media-made word for no good.

But if their sister can choose, unilaterally, to void her maternity, and abort her parental role as a matter of a constitutionally protected choice, why shouldn't my sons have an equivalent choice--say, within the first two trimesters--to declare their decision not to parent, to void their paternity, notwithstanding whatever the impregnated woman does? Isn't this precisely the same choice given to women by Roe v. Wade?

Still, pregnancy and abortion, some will argue, are women's issues, concerning a woman's body. "It's none of your business," I am sometimes told. "Once men can get pregnant, then you can talk!" Is it really all about wombs, then? Is biology destiny, after all?

Is it the species or the gender that reproduces? Aren't pregnancy and parenting human issues? I know they were when my sons and daughter were "expected." Their mother was "expecting." So was I. And while a woman's body is certainly involved in her maternity, a man's is involved in his paternity. Women may choose legally to evict the fetus from their wombs because their right to privacy includes dominion over their bodies and the bodies inside them. But do we not ask men for 18 years of work and toil, their body's "labor" in support of the baby born of their loins? If they refuse, which too many do, we do not call it a privacy issue; we call them scoundrels.

If their sister can choose, unilaterally, to abort her parental role as a matter of a constitutionally protected choice, why shouldn't my sons have an equivalent choice?

If I am encouraged to march in favor of a woman's right to choose a safe, legal, and affordable medical procedure to abort her maternity, where are the women who will march with me to uphold the rights of my sons and their sons in the matter--to choose a safe, legal, and affordable legal procedure to terminate, for reasons that range from good to not so good, their paternity? Is choice good for one and all or only one and half of the population?

"If they don't want the responsibility, they should keep their pants on!" is what I am told by several women of my acquaintance. Truth be told, this seems like sound advice. But the same advice, tendered to my daughter or to the daughters of my women friends, is regarded as suspect, sexist, patriarchal: "If you don't want the responsibility, you should keep your panties on." "If you're going to dance, you've got to pay the piper."

Is it possible that the same reproductive choices now legally available to women, when exercised by men become irresponsible, indulgent, selfish, and sexist and ultimately contrary to the best interests of the species?

What would it look like if a million or so men, within 12 weeks of impregnating their sexual partners, were to declare, for reasons they had to articulate to no one, their interest in the fetus null and void, ceased and aborted? What if there were clinics, operated by Planned Parenthood, or a benign nonprofit, where the paperwork could be cleanly conducted for a reasonable fee--these paper "procedures" done by lawyers instead of doctors, assisted by paralegals instead of nurses, in a safe, legal, unilateral, constitutionally protected way, the same for the fathers as for mothers? Would protesters march in front of such clinics? Would signs appear calling the men unflattering names? Would pictures of destitute children and abandoned mothers punctuate these protests? If most of us are, as we are frequently told, pro-choice, shouldn't the courts uphold this choice as well?

The politics of reproduction involve not only our public interests, but also our private ones. And in the long-standing debates, the terrible din of public rhetoric has obscured the talk between fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives.

Women are right to abhor decisions about their bodies that leave them out. So are men. The reproductive life of the species is not a woman's issue. It is a human one. It requires the voices of human beings. And the language it deserves is intimate.


Join Beliefnet Today!

more from beliefnet and our partners