Why men should speak about abortion
"I don't understand how any man thinks that he has the right to dictate to women what they should do with their body," said Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show, last year. "Men know nothing about what it's like to be a woman."
This is a common sentiment. Men don't get pregnant, so they don't have a right to an opinion about abortion. Abortion is a women's issue. As one typical comment on social media puts it: "If you don't have a uterus then shut up."
It's true that men can't experience pregnancy, childbirth, or abortion. We can never fully know what those experiences are like, and we shouldn't pretend that we do. We can only try our best to empathize.
But it's also true that abortion is right or wrong, just or unjust, irrespective of the gender or personal experiences of any particular individual. The truth of a statement (e.g., "abortion is wrong") is independent of the characteristics of the person who happens to be making the statement. That's how reality works.
So if abortion is unjust, as millions of women contend (including women who have experienced unplanned pregnancy, childbirth, abortion, and adoption), then it doesn't cease to be unjust when a man offers the same argument. The argument is still sound. It cannot be dismissed because of a trait of the person advocating it (a mistake in reasoning called the ad hominem fallacy). If defenders of abortion want to refute the pro-life view, they have to actually refute the pro-life view.
The idea behind what Noah and others say seems to be that an individual must be able to have direct experience of something in order to hold a valid opinion about it. But that would mean that infertile women shouldn't have a say about abortion. It would mean that men who advocate abortion shouldn't have a say. It would mean that the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision that imposed legalized abortion—a ruling decided by seven men—was illegitimate.
Take some other issues. Until just recently, no American women served on the front lines in combat. Even though they didn't have first-hand experience, though, they had a right to express their views regarding the wisdom and justice of military actions.
Or consider infanticide. We may not understand the desperate mindset that drives a teenager to abandon a newborn baby in the Mississippi river. We may decide, for that reason, not to judge her. But we can still know that abandonment is wrong and that we should try to save the baby. We can come to a sound conclusion about an act without having a personal experience with the circumstances in which the act takes place.
What conclusion should we come to about abortion? Human embryos and fetuses are living members of the species Homo sapiens. That's science. And all human beings have human rights and deserve the respect of others and the protection of society. That's justice.
The plain truth is that abortion isn't only a women's issue. Every pregnancy, after all, begins with a man as well as a woman. Every unborn child has a father as well as a mother. The attitude of the father, moreover, is often the decisive factor in the mother's decision about whether to have an abortion. And men can experience the same traumatic aftermath of abortion that many women do.
Men are inescapably part of the issue of abortion. Fathers of unborn children, especially, have a personal stake and a personal responsibility.
But the most important reason men should speak about abortion is the same reason that women should speak about abortion. They should speak in order to defend the lives of those who cannot defend themselves—the little girls and boys who have not yet been born.
They ought to speak about abortion because it's the honorable and loving thing to do.
This article first appeared in the June 2017 issue of NRL News.