The Mix

Forced childbirth, forced abortion

Swell new ideas on how to control women
This week, men debating abortion in the so-called "liberal media" have taken a giant step into the dark ages. The men in question are all pro-choice—that is, they are in favor of men making the reproductive choices for their property. Oops, I meant to say, their women. Sometimes I get those two confused.

The all-male debate over abortion was sparked with a Dec. 1st op-ed piece in the New York Times by Dalton Conley, the director of New York University's Center for Advanced Social Science Research. Conley, a supposedly smart man, started by praising Judge Samuel Alito's 1991 decision to uphold "husband notification" laws. Conley argued under the prism of "fatherhood rights" that Alito should have gone even further, allowing men to "claim a role in the reproductive decision-making process." He writes:
"Bear with me here. About a decade ago, my girlfriend became pregnant. It wasn't planned, but it wasn't exactly unplanned either, in that we obviously knew how biology worked. I desperately wanted to keep the baby, but she wasn't ready, and there were some minor medical concerns about the fetus, so she decided to terminate the pregnancy against my wishes. What right did I have to stop her? As it turned out, none. It was, indeed, a woman's right to choose.
Not surprisingly, we broke up"
Oh, how sad. If only she submitted to his desire for a child, then everything would have been fine, I'm sure…
"If a father is willing to legally commit to raising a child with no help from the mother he should be able to obtain an injunction against the abortion of the fetus he helped create."
In a quick response the same day, Salon writer Farhad Manjoo took the argument to a whole new level, adding forced abortion to Conley's desire for forced childbirth:
"Conley's call for fathers to have a greater say in whether an abortion occurs really means two things: One, that the father should have a right to veto an abortion, but also that the father should have a right to veto a pregnancy by insisting on an abortion. And to this second scenario -- giving a man a right to an abortion -- I say, Why not?"
Why not?! Why NOT??!! This statement makes me so furious I really want to type everything from here on out in all caps, but I will spare you, my dear readers, from that expression of anger.

Manjoo doesn't stop there for those of you who are not sufficiently angry:
"Those of us who want to keep abortion legal invariably cast the matter as one of choice. But choice is selfish; when women choose not to become mothers, they're doing what they feel is best for themselves. Men deserve the same right."
The next day, probably after reading letters from many angry women like me, Manjoo reversed his opinion, simply writing, "What the hell was I thinking to say that men should have the right to compel women to have abortions? Did I actually say that? Because isn't that insane?" (Click HERE to read Manjoo's exploration of his insane column.)

Well, thanks, Farhad, but you did open this Pandora's box of nastiness, to which I must respond.

First of all, let's put these ideas into context here. Women, clearly, are the historically vulnerable sex. We are the ones who have been bought and sold for sex (and in many places continue to be bought and sold). We are the ones historically forced into marriage, and in some places continue to be forced into marriage. We are the ones who are still stoned to for death in some places for committing adultery, and raped in order to breed children as an act of war. We are the ones who become pregnant and bear the physical, social, and lifelong burden of bearing and raising children. So, basically, Conley and Manjoo are not saying anything new here. For thousands of years, men have desired complete control over women's bodies and up until recently, they have often had it.

To frame forced childbirth and forced abortion as "fatherhood rights" is more infuriating than I can possibly express. Women -- not men -- began the call for responsible fatherhood. The only thing that women can force men to do is hand out some money for parenting. Women have never had control over men's bodies, and I think most men would balk at the idea of women getting court-orders for their boyfriends and husbands to get vasectomies or vasectomy reversals (which would be much less invasive than, let's say, strapping a woman down for a forced abortion, or 20 hours of labor pains and childbirth).

And I wonder if Conley or Manjoo thought about what their ideas could mean in practice. In a likely situation, it would mean angry ex-boyfriends filing injunctions to have women grudgingly carry their pregnancies to term. Or in the worst case—of forced abortion -- it almost surely would mean scenes of would-be mothers being handcuffed and carried kicking and screaming into abortion clinics, being forcibly anesthetized, clamped to the stirrups and scraped out. Is that what men want?

The only rational man in this entire media debate over men's right to control women has been talk show host Brian Lehrer, who spoke with Farhad Manjoo this morning on WNYC. Lehrer's immediate reaction to reading Manjoo's Salon piece was "Men are pigs." Yes, Brian, some are. To hear some of the pigs yourself, just listen to a few callers on The Brian Leher show yourself HERE, who, among other things, suggest that women "keep their legs closed." (Still resisting the desire to type in all caps here.)

Oh, and just a tip for men who worry about their "fatherhood rights" -- wear a damn condom every time you have sex and you'll have about a 98% chance of not running into this problem.
Maria Luisa Tucker is a staff writer at AlterNet and associate editor of the Columbia Journal of American Studies.
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