“What’s an abortion?” my 10 year-old son asked.
“Ah, it’s when a woman decides not to have her baby and goes to the doctor and has it removed from her body,” I scrambled to reply, as my blithe assumption that anyone who lived in America would be familiar with Abortion caught up with me.
“So, it’s like taking away a life,” he declared, stating the pro-life position most plainly.
Being pro-choice, I started to explain that it wasn’t that simple. There is a debate about when the embryo becomes a person, which is why using the word “baby” was something I quickly regretted. Furthermore, the rights of the woman were also under consideration.
As I talked with my son, I experienced some discomfort that the points I was making were unconvincing when held up against the right to life, which in a child’s mind was such a plain and simple concept.
It was an uncomfortable position, but as anyone with a passing knowledge of ethics knows, it is always complicated when you have to weigh moral imperatives against each other. The entrenched nature of the Abortion debate in America works to jam complex decisions into a binary. I almost feel I’m committing pro-choice treason; handing the other side a talking point, by admitting I am conflicted. But, while I am breaking out of the box let’s be clear; I don’t like the idea of an abortion. I hope my daughter never has to make the choice to terminate a pregnancy.
My struggle is nothing compared to the anguish of a woman who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant and considering her options. I know women who have had an abortion, put their baby up for adoption or created their own little family. These are not easy choices. None were ill-considered or taken lightly. All these choices had, and continue to have, great impact on the women involved. The biggest decisions in life are the most prone to second-guessing.
As a man, I feel like an imposter even commenting on this; a Martian describing life on Venus by peering through a telescope.
As a father, I have to talk about it with my children about abortion, especially my boys. You can’t teach your sons about sex without discussing the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy.
So boys, What does it mean to be a Pro-Choice Man?
Believing in a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body is to give away your power. That is tough for a man. Both mothers and fathers have rights, but the impact of a pregnancy on a woman is much greater than it is on man. That means if you and the woman you conceived with want different things, her rights have precedence over yours. It’s her body, her emotional life, her finances, her career, her time, her anything that will be the most effected by the decision to have a baby. An unplanned pregnancy should throw up these issues for the father, but if you want to claim men have equal rights in this situation I would ask if you have ever heard the expression Dead-Beat Mom? No, in reality women don’t have that option.
The risk in granting the ultimate decision to the woman is the man is let off the hook. That would be wrong. A man has to make his choices before he has sex.
Ideally, you should talk about this scenario prior to getting down to your underwear. In a slow burning relationship that might be possible, but often things move rather quickly. Let’s be practical, having a chat about what she would choose if she got pregnant, while you fumble with her bra hooks would be a bit of a mood killer.
I’ve never discussed it before I had first had sex. I’ve slept with women who I wouldn’t have wanted to start a family with. I’ve continued to sleep with women after they told me they could never have an abortion. I’ve always used contraception and therefore judged the risk is rather small.
By the way contraception is an altogether quicker and more significant conversation. One you can and should have before she flings your pants across the room. I’ve never met a woman who was turned off by my offer to wear a condom. Faffing around trying to open it with sweaty palms and lubricated fingers is another matter.
But I’ve gone to withdraw after sex, reached down to secure the condom and discovered it is not where I last left it. Trust me, feeling around for the thick end of a rubber in the dark really is a mood killer. There is no hiding for the sudden increase in perceived risk, and if you haven’t had the conversation before hand, you still have to bear the consequences if your sperm finds its way to her egg.
My grandfather would have said a man should do right by a woman he knocked up; make her an honest woman. Today, there are more options than a shotgun wedding, but if you father a child, there will be consequences in terms of your time, your income and freedom. They might not be as great as those faced by the woman you slept with, but they will be there.
And if that happens, you, son, will be bound by the choices the woman makes. That is being a Pro-Choice Man.