• Paul Stark

Men shouldn't be silent on abortion



Men don't have a uterus. They can't get pregnant. They don't fully understand what it's like to experience pregnancy, childbirth, or abortion. All of that is true.


And it's why, when men express a pro-life view on abortion or offer an argument for that view, defenders of abortion often tell them they can't have a say. They don't have a right to speak to the issue because they are men. Their view is frequently dismissed on that basis.


"I don't understand how any man thinks that he has the right to dictate to women what they should do with their body. Men know nothing about what it's like to be a woman," says Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show. Former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg cautions that "male government officials" shouldn't try to protect unborn children.


It seems like there are two ways to interpret this "men can't have a say" dismissal. First, abortion defenders could mean that the fact that someone is a man (or lacks certain experiences) counts against the merits of his view on abortion—it's a reason to think that his pro-life view is false or that his argument is faulty.


But this is a classic example of the ad hominem fallacy in reasoning. That's when someone attacks or focuses on his opponent's characteristics rather than dealing with the issue or argument under consideration. It's a fallacy because, even if the claims about the person are accurate, it doesn't follow that his position or argument isn't correct. The truth of a statement (e.g., "abortion is unjust") is independent of the characteristics of the person who happens to be making the statement. That's how reality works.


In the case of abortion, the pro-life position is either true or false irrespective of the gender of a person who holds it, and the pro-life argument is either sound or unsound irrespective of the gender of a person who advocates it. After all, millions of women, alongside millions of men, hold the pro-life view or make the pro-life argument. To determine whether or not that view is true, we must assess it on its own merits, not dismiss it because of a particular person's traits.


Abortion supporters may try to disregard the arguments of pro-life men, but doing so is not the same as refuting those arguments.


But there's a second interpretation of the "men can't have a say" dismissal. Maybe abortion defenders mean that because men can't experience pregnancy and abortion, they aren't in a position to know (or be justified in believing) their ethical view of it. This claim isn't about moral reality but rather about epistemology—about knowledge. "Maybe it's true that abortion is wrong," the abortion supporter could say, "but you don't know that. Because you're a man. So your opinion isn't worth listening to."


In fact, many pro-life men do have some kind of personal experience with abortion—performing it, encouraging it, discouraging it, being hurt by it, surviving it. But the more fundamental problem is this: We can know the truth (or offer sound arguments in support) of a proposition about something without direct experience of that something.


We can know, for example, that spousal abuse is wrong even if we aren't discontented husbands. We can know that infant abandonment is bad even if we can't relate to the desperation of a teenage mother. We can offer cogent arguments for our views about social welfare policies even if we aren't welfare recipients ourselves.


Indeed, defenders of abortion probably don't want to disregard the opinions of infertile women or abortion-supporting men (such as the seven men who decided Roe v. Wade) even though they can't experience pregnancy and abortion. And if those people can be justified in holding and advocating their views, then so—in principle—can pro-life men.


This doesn't mean experience can't be important and informative. And there's a sort of experiential knowledge that we can't possess without the relevant experience. Just as civilians don't know what it feels like to engage in military combat, men don't know what it feels like to undergo pregnancy or childbirth or abortion. Yet claims about the morality of war and abortion are not matters of experiential knowledge but of propositional knowledge. We can determine whether they are true or false using evidence and logic.


Consider the pro-life view. It's based on (1) the fact established by embryology that human embryos and fetuses are members of the species Homo sapiens and (2) the principle that all human beings have human rights and should not be subjected to unjust acts of lethal violence.


Countless women in the United States and around the world embrace this argument—including women who have personally experienced unexpected pregnancy, childbirth, abortion, the placement of children for adoption, poverty, abuse, and pregnancy resulting from sexual assault. And pro-life men embrace the very same argument. The argument is accessible and knowable by people of all backgrounds.


What matters is whether or not it's sound. What matters is whether or not the pro-life position is true.


And if it is, then men shouldn't be silent. They should join with pro-life women to advocate and defend the rights of children in utero, to support their mothers, and to help bring an end to the injustice of abortion.


This article appears in the June 2020 issue of NRL News.

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