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Human rights

Having the ability to plan our families is not only a woman's right
 
 
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That the ability to plan a family is all or mostly a woman's right defies my understanding of biology. Unless a stork is dropping off little packages like in Bugs Bunny cartoons, men are also impacted by the state of reproductive rights in this country.

According to research by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, less than half of women getting an abortion in 2004 cited "not wanting to be a single mother or … having relationship problems" as one of the reasons. So men in committed relationships are involved in many of the choices of which we speak.

And the consequences of forcing people to give birth against their will are born by society as a whole. Unwanted or unloved babies, and babies born to people unprepared to give them the care they need disproportionately become social problems later in life - the criminals, the depressed, the substance-abusers of tomorrow.

I'm not saying that women should hold anything less than ultimate sovereignty over their bodies; it's ultimately their choice. But saying it's a "women's issue" denies the reality that for many or most men - I don't have a statistic - saying "ciao" when an unplanned pregnancy happens isn't an option.

I have my own experience to go on; the personal is political. While I'm not one who generally shares personal details in my writing, I'm going to make an exception here.

Three times I've gotten the heart-stopping news that my partner was unexpectedly pregnant, and three times she and I, together, chose to terminate the pregnancy.

Once, the choice was easy - we were young, poor and both terrified at the prospect of having children. We knew our relationship was not a permanent one; in fact it was "scheduled" to come to an end a month later when her visa expired.

The other two were more difficult choices because of where we were and who we were at the time. Although it was understood that the final decision was hers, we worked through it together. These were painful, difficult times. Men are capable of anguish too.

I'm 36 now and my only dependent is a dog. On this anniversary of Roe, I can't imagine how different my life would have been if our choices had been limited to back-alley butchery or having children we weren't prepared to have. I would not be able to afford to do what I do now if I had three kids, aged 8-15.

Social conservatives will say it was all our fault anyway; it's about personal responsibility. But one pregnancy resulted from a contraceptive failure and in one case my partner had been told that she was unable to conceive. It's not uncommon; according to the Guttmacher research, "42% of condom users cited condom breakage or slippage as a reason for pregnancy."

One pregnancy was entirely our fault - it was one of those hot and sweaty mistakes young people sometimes make when stupefied by lust and caught up in a moonlit moment. The question is: what is an appropriate punishment for such a crime of passion? Is it to live poor? To not have a chance to fulfill your ambitions?

By relegating reproductive choice to the domain of "women's issues," we ignore the reality that many people live when faced with these difficult choices. Worse yet, it plays into the hands of a cranky old patrimony that is threatened by modern social mores and wants nothing more that to control women's sexuality. They've invested enormous amounts of resources and energy into vilifying the sexual revolution and feminism in general, and we run right into their wall by calling abortion a women's issue.

The ability to plan one's family is a human right. Let's call it what it is.

Posted in conjunction with Blog for Choice Day.

Joshua Holland is a staff writer at Alternet and a regular contributor to The Gadflyer .