Dear Reproductive Rights

In 1973 history was made when the Supreme Court ruled that every woman in America had a say over what grew inside of her womb. The horrors of illegal, back-alley abortions were a thing of the past, lives were saved (depending on your definition of life) and women had greater autonomy, sexual freedom, and determination over their own reproductive destinies. 

Legalized abortion also finally gave some teeth to that age-old parental threat, "I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of it."

Donohue and Levitt (of Freakonomics fame) have even argued that abortion has reduced crime (and some other social ills) by ensuring that unwanted pregnancies don't result in unwanted children born to mothers ill-equipped to raise them. 

Abortion isn't all rainbows and ponies of course. The coat-hanger industry was devestated by Roe v. Wade. But at least now I can hang up my coat at Aunt Cindy's house without having to wonder whether I'm touching something that's been up her cooter.

And yet for all the bitter, embattled debate over reproductive rights that's taken place over the last 40 years, one important segment of the population has been ignored. In fact a full half of all Americans still have no reproductive rights whatsoever. They're not even at the table or part of the discussion. 

I'm talking of course about men. Men have no choice; pro, amateur, or otherwise. 

Imagine you're a dude, you got your girlfriend pregnant, and you're loving the fact that you're going to become a father. Ohhhh, too bad. Your girlfriend decided to abort and you've got no say over your progeny. For you there's no right to keep your own child.

Conversely let's say you're in no shape financially or emotionally to become a father. You're immature; like drives a hatchback, throws his dirty laundry into a garbage bag and drops it off at his mother's place once a month immature. You get your girlfriend pregnant. What's that, genetic contributor and equal parent to a potential human life? You'd like to have a choice whether you bring your own child into this world or not? Well too bad, you're going to be committed to the irreversible act of parenthood against your will.

At this point some of you may be thinking, but wait; men do have a choice- they can choose whether to have sex, and they can choose to use birth control... and that's exactly what conservative nutbags write on their cardboard signs about women when they're protesting outside of abortion clinics. If women have legally-protected access to the "nuclear option" after abstinence and/or birth control have failed, then it's complete bullshit that men don't as well.

"It's my body" and the right to privacy is an argument that comes up often when talking about reproductive rights, and it's true that the first nine months of reproduction occur inside a woman's body, but pregnancy is not a one-man show performed in isolation. It takes place using someone else's genetic material. My flour and my sugar and my chocolate and my milk and my eggs don't magically become not mine anymore just because you take them to your house and use your oven to start baking a cake with them. I still have at least a partial claim on the cake that does or doesn't get baked in your oven, because half the ingredients still belong to me.

Another problem with the "My body, my choice" attitude is that the choices women make with their bodies don't always stay in their bodies. Sometimes the choice comes out, leverages 18 years of child-support payments, irreversibly changes my life forever, and guilts me into buying it a car for its sixteenth birthday. The choice has left the body. Just because something starts in your body doesn't mean you have the right to offload it onto someone else's life. I can't walk into your house, drop trow and lay down a double-wide Cleveland steamer on your coffee table while screaming out, "My body, my choice!" I mean, I could. And indeed I have, but I can tell you from personal experience that the result is incarceration, not legal protection.

So what's the solution? Obviously there could be some problems if one parent wants to keep the baby and the other does not. The only fair thing to do is give each parent the veto. At first I thought maybe the woman could choose whether to abort during the first three trimesters and the man could take the 4th through 6th trimesters. Then I decided perhaps an immediate post-birth abortion would be more socially acceptable.

I'm not sure how socially acceptable it would be to abort a fetus at 72 weeks

Before you dismiss post-birth abortion out of hand, let's remember the wide range of developmental stages people point to when deciding what's killable and what isn't. Many religious people claim conception is the magical point at which a human is a human, but that wasn't always so. The Medieval Church had it pegged at a much earlier stage of development. 

Roe v. Wade decided that fetuses don't have their own right to life until they're viable outside the womb (24-28 weeks old). Subsequent rulings pushed those rights back to birth itself, which allowed for partial-birth abortion until the federal government outlawed that in 2003. A post-birth abortion would occur mere moments after a partial-birth abortion would, and partials were legal up until 12 years ago. I defy anyone to logically explain what magical transformation occurs from one moment to the next as a baby pokes its head out of the cervix.

Other cultures throughout human history have had yet other standards. In the Greek and Roman cultures, babies were routinely left to die of exposure after birth for all sorts of reasons ranging from deformity to lackofpenis disease. Looking to nature won't help us here either. Animal fathers often eat their own progeny if the mood takes them.

Some say Cronus was too hard on his children, others call it "tough love"

Any point you pick during human development as the start of  "being human" and having the rights pertinent thereto is going to be arbitrary on some level. Maturity is a process, not an event. You start with sperm and eggs on one end of the spectrum, which have no rights, despite having half a human genome and the potential to develop into an adult human being. On the other side of the spectrum you have a 35-year old university professor who is now officially old enough to run for Senate. No one can definitively say there was one magical "becoming human" moment at any point along the way on the journey from zygote to professor. So as long as we're arbitrarily picking a developmental stage to grant a right to life at, let's arbitrarily say that a fetus is welcomed into the human family at the moment in which both of its creators decide to accept it into their family.

I'm not here to judge the morality of different kinds of abortions at different stages of human development. All I'm saying is this- as long as we're killing fetuses, I want in on the action, because it's bullshit that women get to bail on their progeny whenever they want to while men have to sit idly by and watch someone else make that life-changing decision for them.

If we're going to subscribe to the logic of, "I brought you into this world and I can take you out of it," it should be something both parents can say.

Sebastian Braff


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