Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"Reproductive Rights are Human Rights"

Stumbled upon this Elle story about men who don't want to be fathers but are "forced"* to by their pregnant partners.
Dubay's argument was that while his girlfriend was permitted by the Constitution to end her pregnancy for any reason, he had no comparable right, in violation of the Equal Protection clause. As a result, he contended, he shouldn't have to be financially responsible for the child.
As the public face of the case, Feit duked it out on CNN with then–National Organization for Women president Kim Gandy, who argued that once a child is born, the rights of the child supersede those of the parents. Since this was the law in all 50 states, men had to accept their financial obligations, Gandy said. Elsewhere on the airwaves, Dr. Phil chastised Dubay—he'd exercised choice, all right, a choice to practice condomless sex. And Fox's Bill O'Reilly bullied Feit with declarations about what it means to be a man and taking responsibil­ity for one's own actions.
As Feit points out, this reasoning is ironically similar to that often used against women's reproductive rights: Abortion encourages sexual promiscuity and irresponsibility; the right of the fetus should override a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy that could've been avoided with birth control; women should have to suffer the consequences of their sexual dalliances.
Interesting conundrum. Do the men have a point? Do abortion rights and child support laws create a sexist standard? I say it depends. It comes to this: Why do pro-choicers think abortion is justified?

If abortion is justified because of bodily rights, then the double standard between the genders makes sense. When it comes to procreation, men and women don't have the same bodily responsibilities at all, so of course they don't have the same rights either. If it's about physical autonomy, you can just say "no one can use your body against your will" and that is as true of men as of women. Sure, it never actually comes up for men in terms of pregnancy, but if it did they'd presumably have the same choice to abort; it's a consistent standard.

But if that's all abortion is about, why do we hear so much about reproductive rights? People sometimes use the phrases "reproductive rights" and "bodily rights" interchangeably, but they aren't the same.

When we talk about reproductive rights, we talk about women being able to choose whether and when they want to become mothers. We talk about each woman carefully considering her responsibilities to her other children, or her educational and career goals, or her concerns over a bad relationship, or her financial issues. What does any of that have to do with her body? Planned Parenthood's motto (Every child a wanted child!) isn't about bodily autonomy--it's about whether people want to be parents, whether they want to reproduce. It's about reproductive rights.

I'm assuming "humans" include "men," right?
 Even in Roe v. Wade itself, the Court created a right to abortion based on much more than bodily concerns:
Specific and direct harm medically diagnosable even in early pregnancy may be involved. Maternity, or additional offspring, may force upon the woman a distressful life and future. Psychological harm may be imminent. Mental and physical health may be taxed by child care. There is also the distress, for all concerned, associated with the unwanted child, and there is the problem of bringing a child into a family already unable, psychologically and otherwise, to care for it. In other cases, as in this one, the additional difficulties and continuing stigma of unwed motherhood may be involved.
So the Supreme Court considered:
  • Other offspring;
  • Psychological harm;
  • Mental health;
  • Distress of other people involved;
  • Preparedness to care for a child; and
  • Stigma of unwed motherhood.

None of that is about bodily rights.

But the Court didn't leave bodily rights out entirely. In the above passage, they also cited concern over  direct medical harm during a pregnancy and physical health during child care. Then again, the Court disagreed with the idea that the right to abortion is absolute or has much to do with unlimited bodily rights.
...some amici argue that the woman's right is absolute and that she is entitled to terminate her pregnancy at whatever time, in whatever way, and for whatever reason she alone chooses. With this we do not agree. ... The privacy right involved, therefore, cannot be said to be absolute. In fact, it is not clear to us that the claim asserted by some amici that one has an unlimited right to do with one's body as one pleases bears a close relationship to the right of privacy previously articulated in the Court's decisions. The Court has refused to recognize an unlimited right of this kind in the past.
So this isn't just about bodily rights. Wouldn't all the non-physical reasons a woman might be unwilling to raise a child apply equally to an unwilling man? If pro-choicers believe in not just bodily rights, but reproductive freedom, why do so many of them apply that freedom to women only?

*I put the word "forced" in quotes because, unless you were raped, no one made you get a woman pregnant, and therefore no one made you become a father. You took that risk yourself. The difference between me and most pro-choicers, though, is that I apply the same logic to both genders.


  1. The day carrying a pregnancy to term becomes an incontestable moral responsibility.

  2. I've noticed how quick many women (and some men's) tunes change when the subject of men's rights come up instead of women's rights. Some even become blatantly sexist. It drives me up the wall, especially when these people can't even see their own blatant hypocrisy.