By Rod Van Mechelen
Suffragists, it may be remarked, were more than a little ambivalent about birth control. -- Reay Tannahill, Sex in History
Not for women only
1992 Bellevue, Wash. - In cases of unplanned pregnancy, the law favors women. The choice to abort or not is theirs, the fathers have no say. The choice to keep the children or not is usually theirs, the fathers have no say. But if they keep the children, one way or another men are expected to pay.
This is one of the realities of sex discrimination against men:
"A woman who finds herself inadvertently pregnant can decide, without so much as talking with the man involved, to destroy the child. Or, again, she can bear the child and make him pay." -- Manhood Redux- Standing up to Feminism, C.H. Freedman, pp 169 - 170
Many argue it's the woman's body, and any issues regarding child bearing are her concern, not his. If this is entirely the case, then just as women have a right to choose, so men must have the same right. If men have no choice in the abortion/birth decision, then there should be no way in which women can impose the responsibility for child support upon men, either directly, through payments from the father, or indirectly, through welfare payments from the government.
The equivalent of women's right to choose to keep or abort a pregnancy is men's right to choose whether to financially support women's choices. This is because the decision whether or not to pay and provide for a child's first 18 years is at least the equivalent of a woman's decision to abort or not.
Pop-feminists don't see it that way, and oppose men's right to choose. Ironically, they often resort to the same argument Pro-life uses to oppose Pro-choice: "She made her choice when she chose to have sex." The pop-feminist version goes something like this: "He made his choice when he chose to have sex, and now he must pay."
Having it both ways?
The politics of abortion require both sides to try to have it both ways.
Aborting a pregnancy for any reason is sad. But there is comedy of a kind in the debates raging over this issue. For while some Pro-lifers claim in tones sometimes calm, other times strident, but often self-righteous, that their interest is in protecting the rights of the unborn, they will grant a woman's right to abort a pregnancy if her life is endangered if she carries the fetus to term. Does this indicate they are willing to cede the rights of the possessor of the body (the woman) are superior to those of the occupant (the baby)?
They say it's murder to abort a pregnancy, but this presumes a right to trespass. (More about that below.) Further, they assert the pregnant woman made her decision and lost any superseding rights the moment she got pregnant. Still, they compromise their position with their willingness to allow abortions in cases where the woman would otherwise die.
So beyond the fact of their bald assertions, they offer no moral basis to justify their agenda, unless it's their "morality of self-sacrifice."
The Morality of Self-Sacrifice
A "morality of self-sacrifice" is, as Carol Gilligan notes, fundamental to the Pro-life stand on abortion.(In a Different Voice, Carol Gilligan, p 83) At a time when much of the middle class could be characterized as "working poor," the decision to bear a baby imposes many obligations that are difficult to fulfill under the best of circumstances.
The dilemma of Pro-life is that it presumes to impose these obligations on all women regardless of their situation. While Pro-choice recognizes and avoids this, it has a moral dilemma of its own: "Retrieving the judgmental initiative, the woman begins to ask whether it is selfish or responsible, moral or immoral, to include her own needs within the compass of her care and concern." (In a Different Voice, Carol Gilligan, p 82) Essentially, the question is, aren't individual rights inherently selfish, and isn't it immoral to be selfish?
Taken to the extreme, selfishness can be immoral, and individual rights are, at root, selfish. But any ideology that rejects all selfishness has no basis upon which to prohibit such crimes as rape, theft, or murder. At root, absolute altruism is criminal:
Were we to deny that some degree of selfishness is good, we would be reduced to the creed of the parasite. Thus, what we commonly consider moral requires at least some selfishness, and this renders the selfish nature of individual rights unassailable.
- "You would deny another the use of your body to relieve his sexual desires? How selfish!"
- "You won't let others take your possessions (taxes) to sustain an acceptable standard of living? How wicked!"
- "You won't let others sacrifice your life (the military draft) to their good causes? How arrogant!"
Competing Rights: Private Property vs. Trespass
The abortion issue, therefore, is arguable only within the context of competing rights. In this context, the issue is not a question of murder or sin, but of the rights of the owner of the host-body (the mother) versus the rights of the occupant (the baby).
Do women "own" their own bodies? If Pro-life answers "no," then they reveal a belief in involuntary servitude, or slavery. If, on the other hand, they agree women do own themselves, then the entire debate over the legitimacy of choice becomes a question of property rights, and few have so clearly articulated this as Murray Rothbard:
"Abortion should be looked upon, not as 'murder' of a living person, but as the expulsion of an unwanted invader from the mother's body." -- The Ethics of Liberty, Murray N. Rothbard, p 98
Anti-abortionists might counter this by asserting it is murder because the unborn child is a human being, with all the rights attendant thereof. To this, Rothbard replies, "What humans, we may ask, have the right to be coercive parasites within the body of an unwilling human host?" (The Ethics of Liberty, Murray N. Rothbard, p 98) Pro-life cannot answer. Bereft of a moral basis upon which to impose their morality of self-sacrifice, they must resort to attacks on the grounds of guilt and sin. (In a Different Voice, Carol Gilligan, p 70) Pop-feminists have responded by transferring blame for this to men.
As usual, men are to blame
Rather than arguing the moral merits of abortion, pop-feminists try to make it a gender-issue, pointing fingers of malevolent ire at men:
"Most (men) are still traditionalists, raised in the stereotypical male view that ... an unborn child's right to life is so precious because they don't have to be in a position, which most women are in financially (and societally), to worry whether that child, once born, will be able to eat and live a healthy physical and emotional life with the love and support of two able parents who can give it the nurturance it needs."-- Women and Love: A Cultural Revolution in Progress, St. Martin's Press mass market edition, 1989, Shere Hite, p 599
This ignores not only that millions of fathers accept the responsibility to work for 18 years or more to support each of their children, but that the typical anti-abortionist is a woman:
(Kristen) Luker portrays the typical anti-abortionist: A 44-year-old woman married at age 17, with three or more children. She attended college, and now stays at home. She attends church at least once a week. She is most likely a Catholic. -- Women Vs. Women: The Uncivil Business War, Tara Roth Madden, p 135
What's more, the common pop-feminist assertion that men oppose birth-control because they want to retain control over women ignores that the early feminists opposed it. (Sex in History, Reay Tannahill, p 415)
All of this conceals that it would not be in the best political interests of some factions of the women's movement to honestly work to decrease unplanned pregnancies because the abortion issue can be used to increase their membership: as Susan Stamberg, a correspondent for National Public Radio, suggested, abortion will be the issue that "will galvanize a kind of women's movement in this country that we have not seen before." (Sonya Live, CNN, January 16, 1992) They shun solutions in favor of political grandstanding.
So what's the solution? How do we resolve this issue? Without trying to control women through blame and shame, without invoking the morality of self-sacrifice or trying to create a sense of guilt and sin, what would be the most effective method to promote Life without making Choice a crime?
The answer is another question: How do grocers sell bread? They sell their goods by advertising. Advertising educates consumers to the value of a thing -- "you should want our stuff because it's 'dang good stuff'." Advertising creates interest and attracts "buyers."
By making abortion murder, however, pro-lifers scare many "buyers" away, and reduce the entire issue to politics. To a matter of law and opinion. Opinions can be changed. So can laws. Morality is not so malleable. Moral codes are enduring. That most people are still shy about sex 25 years after free-love became philosophically correct bears testimony to the enduring quality of ethnic morality.
Morality has far more power to prevent abortion than the law. Morality, and love. "Children," as Robert Heinlein said, "are for loving," and in a country where childless couples clamor for adoptable children, teen-aged girls feel it morally preferable to abort than carry to term and give up for adoption babies they can ill-afford to keep. Crass as it may sound, Pro-life needs to sell these babies.
They need to sell young women on the idea of bearing them, and society on expanded concepts of parenthood and adoption. But how?
How does a company sell its products? Most merchants know the most effective and ethical means of promoting their products is through advertising, and that's what both the Pro-life and Pro-choice should do: advertise.
If a woman is pregnant and wants to have an abortion badly enough, she'll find a way, no matter what laws prohibit it. But if she wants to have a baby, she won't want an abortion. What if virtually no-one wanted an abortion? Who would oppose Pro-life? Who would rail against Pro-choice?
If virtually every woman wanted to bear every child she conceived, we would not have Choice versus Life. The way to create this kind of public attitude is not to penalize women who seek abortions, but to promote Pro-life through the power of positive advertising.
In 1990, when I wrote the initial draft for this chapter, few organizations were doing this. Feeling this issue was too important to wait on publication, I sent summaries of this chapter to dozens of pro-life organizations, and it's very gratifying to see some of them utilyzing this strategy.
The Power of Advertising
One of the reasons advertising works so well is, it creates a sense of wide-spread validation and approval. When you see someone on TV talking about how wonderful something is, it's easier to believe than the message of an antagonistic protester waving a sign in your face calling you a baby-killer.
Tell someone they're wrong, and they will feel obligated to prove themselves right -- just ask any child. So when the defenders of Life tell the champions of Choice that abortion is wrong because it's murder, the instant inclination is to resist: "No, we're not wrong! We do not condone murder because abortion is not murder." Making them wrong is the quickest way to rouse resistance: resistance to the principles of Pro-life, resistance to having children.
The most enduring way to achieve fewer abortions is not to harp on why abortion and promiscuity are wrong, bad, or a sure road to what George Gilder might call Sexual Suicide, but, like a neighborhood grocery store advertising milk, to validate child-bearing and encourage responsible sex.
This may not be the only answer, nor even the best, but the power of advertising is too well proven to argue its effectiveness. It won't violate any women's rights, and it may even have the added benefit of changing how we view children and sex for the better.
Pop-feminists know this. Betty Friedan (the woman credited with sparking the modern Feminist movement with her book, The Feminine Mystique) made sure of that when she demonstrated how, over the course of just a few years, American advertisers promoted Rosy the Riveter's move out of the airplane factory and into the middle class kitchen of the 1950's with one advertising theme: "The art of good homemaking should be the goal of every normal woman." (The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan, p 201)
Advertising works. We know this. What we don't know is, are the competing factions prepared to resolve this issue, or do they just want to keep on fighting, generating more victims, resolving nothing?
Rod Van Mechelen
Rod Van Mechelen is the author of What Everyone Should Know about Feminist Issues: The Male-Positive Perspective (the page now includes several articles by other authors), and the publisher of The Backlash! @ Backlash.com. He is a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and served for 9-1/2 years on the Cowlitz Indian Tribal Council.