Should “potential fathers” have any say in abortion?

Of course women should have the right to choose. But.. shouldn’t the potential father have the right to be consulted, too?”

If you talk about abortion a lot, and you’re coming from the pro-choice side of the spectrum, you’ve probably heard this- or maybe even said it- a few times. The reasons people give for saying it tend to boil down to two basic ideas: that both people are parents of the potential child and so both should have a say, and that it can be incredibly hurtful to men who want to be parents, if their partners abort the pregnancy that they still want.

Both of those points refer to very real, significant things, and it’s only natural to empathise with people in that situation. However, I’m going to argue that, despite these, there should be no obligation on the part of a pregnant person to consult with, or even inform, their partner about their intent to terminate a pregnancy.

We Don’t Have The Right To Become Parents

Nobody- not you, not me, not your ma- has the right to be someone’s parent. We have the right to act, with consenting others, in ways that we hope will result in becoming parents. We can decide that we’d like to have kids, we can have oodles of unprotected PIV with people who’d like to have kids with us, we can- if we can afford it- have all kinds of fertility treatments to make pregnancy more likely, and, depending on our state’s regulations, we can seek to foster or adopt.

We have the right to seek to be parents. We do not have the inalienable right to become parents. Each of the ways in which we can become parents is subject to gatekeeping and the consent of others. If we wish to foster or adopt, we must satisfy adoption agencies that we are suitable parents (and, yes, in some countries, including my own, this depends on a shedload of factors, such as sexual orientation of parents, that are unfair, irrelevant and discriminatory). If we want to be biological parents? We need someone else’s consent for that, too, especially if we’re not equipped with a fully-functioning uterus to do the gestating in.

You could say that this isn’t fair. You would be right. It’s not fair that there are many, many people in the world who would love to have kids and who would make amazing parents who’ll never get to do that. But if something requires the consent of someone else to happen, and if for any reason, no matter how arbitrary, they do not grant or withdraw that consent? It doesn’t happen.

It’s not fair. But the alternative is far, far less fair.

Feelings vs Bodily Autonomy

Let’s go over one of the two major reasons given above for why partners of pregnant people should have a say in whether an abortion happens: that it can be incredibly hurtful to men who want to be parents, if their partners abort the pregnancy that they still want.

It can.

It’s not tough, really, to put yourself in the shoes of someone in this situation, even if it’s something you haven’t experienced. You want to be a parent- you long to be a parent. Hearing that your partner is pregnant, you’re overjoyed. All of the things you’ve dreamed of about being someone’s mum or someone’s dad suddenly seem real, because there’s a potential future person right there, growing. In your mind they’re already taking their first steps, you’re already teaching them all about dinosaurs and how to cycle their first bike and they’re already becoming a Nobel prize winning Olympic gymnast astronaut who never, ever forgets to call home. And in your mind they already have your eyes and your partner’s smile and they sit in that funny way all of your cousins do. And then? Your partner says that it’s not going to happen. And you? You’re expected to hold their goddamn hand through it all, and it hurts.

Yeah. I can imagine that hurting. I can imagine that tearing me apart. I can imagine it being genuinely, honest-to-goodness traumatic.

But a thing hurting our feelings- even in a way that tears us apart and leaves us traumatised and scarred- doesn’t mean that we have the right to infringe on someone else’s bodily autonomy.

Taking a moment to make a comparison- and understanding that all comparisons are incomplete- let’s liken this to breakups. Breakups and divorces can be amicable, they can be painful, or they can be gut-wrenchingly horrible. We all know people who’ve suffered for months or years after the particularly unpleasant ending of a relationship. It’s a horrible thing, it really is, and my heart goes out to people enduring it.

And yet, even with that, we understand that the right of a person to leave a relationship trumps the desire of another to continue it. We know that there is no obligation on the part of a dumper to let the dumpee attempt to change their mind and to take their (real, hurt) feelings into account when deciding whether or not to end a relationship. And y’know what else we know? That a lot of the time that would be a terrible idea.

We choose who to be partnered with.

Relationships aren’t even a binary proposition- there are countless shades of grey between strangers and partners. There’s no shade of grey between pregnant and not-pregnant. We each have the sovereign right to decide what we are willing to have happen inside our own bodies. We have the right to choose the people who we talk and consult with about that decision. And we have the right to make that decision on our own.

When it comes to abortion, our right to choose to carry a pregnancy to term or to terminate does not exist because of our genetic relationship to the fetus inside us- forcing a surrogate mother, say, to carry to term is abhorrent. Our right to choose exists solely because the pregnancy is in our body, is part of our body, sharing our blood, our food, water and oxygen. The right to choose is, at the end of the day, nothing to do with pregnancy. Pregnancy is simply a time when that right is contested. The right to choose is about our right to self-determination, nothing more.

Our desire for a certain outcome- and our desire to advocate for that outcome- can never trump another person’s right to self-determination.

She Has The Final Say, But..

People often counter what I’ve said earlier with what I like to call “She Has The Final Say, But..“. They acknowledge that a pregnant person has the right to make the decision over whether to terminate, but stress that she should have a moral obligation to, at the very least, talk to her partner.

She has the final say, but she should hear him out. She has the final say, but having a conversation is the only decent thing to do. She has the final say, but she should take his feelings into account. She has the final say, but..

She has the final say, but..” is nothing more than an attempt to give one person’s desires priority over another’s rights. So here’s the question I can’t but ask: why are we talking about this again? If my rights trump your desires regarding me (and vice-versa), then why are we getting sidetracked from a conversation about rights with a plea to think about what rights others would, or would not, like us to exercise?

It’s difficult to see “She has the final say, but..” as anything other than a last-ditch effort to get someone to change her mind and influence her decision. What it betrays, at heart, is where a person’s empathy lies- in this case, not with the pregnant person, but with her partner. They’re not thinking about how she would feel, or how feeling obligated to have the conversation could make a potentially difficult situation that much harder. They’re thinking solely about how her partner might feel. And also? They’re betraying a profound mistrust of women’s ability to make the decisions we need to make, in the ways that are best for us.

Either She Will, Or She Won’t.

When people plead with women to discuss our reproductive choices with the men in our lives, they do so with certain assumptions in mind. When you challenge those assumptions, the answer is that of course they weren’t talking about those situations.

When people say that women discussing our abortions with our partners is, as one person said to me last week, the “only decent thing to do”, they’re thinking of a particular kind of woman, and a particular kind of partner. They’re not thinking of women in abusive relationships, or women who aren’t in relationships at all. They’re not thinking- a surprise really, given a lot of the other rhetoric about abortion- about women who mightn’t be sure of who the father of the fetus is. They’re not thinking of relationships that, for one reason or another, might be intimate in some ways but not others. There’s no talk of, say, the person I dated who told me once that if I ever had an abortion we’d never speak again. Or of the person who longed for a child, but who also regularly spent days on end unable to leave the house. The image is always of women in loving, mutually supportive relationships who for no particular reason decide not to inform their partners that they’re pregnant and planning to terminate.

That idea? Is frankly ridiculous. If people are in a relationship where conversations on abortion would be welcome, where they feel safe and comfortable sharing intimate details with each other, and where they’ll support each other? They’ll talk about it. The pregnant person will talk about it. If, however, her partner is not someone she feels safe sharing with? Or if they’re simply not the person she thinks to go to, if there’s someone else who she is closer to?

That’s why, at the end of the day, the question of whether pregnant people “should” discuss their plans to have abortions- or not- with their partners is a meaningless one. If they have the kind of relationship where they talk about those things, then they will, and admonitions to do so are unnecessary. If they don’t? Then it’s nothing more than shaming women into doing something contrary to their best interests, in a situation which could be hurtful at best and dangerous at worst.

Which is why we say “trust women”.

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Should “potential fathers” have any say in abortion?
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Responding to Alive

I received a comment in response to my post last week on Alive! Gay Pro Life Network from Andrew, who says that he’s one of the people behind AliveGPN. In the interests of clarity I’ve decided to re-post and respond to his comment, and the other interactions I’ve been having with AliveGPN, here. For clarity and to distinguish from other sources, quotes from Andrew are in Times New Roman.

Who are Alive GPN?

Hello friends. I’m one of the individuals behind Alive GPN. Some other gay friends and I who happen to be pro-life have become frustrated with our lack of representation within the LGBT community. We think human rights begin when life begins. So we decided to make a blog and a Twitter to give voice to some of these issues.

Yes, I’m gay. And yes, I happen to be male. So naturally, my perspective on gays and the pro-life movement will reflect my background. Everyone regardless of gender or sexual orientation should be able to speak out on such an important human rights issue.

Of course your perspective will reflect your background. However, a particular background is no excuse for erasing the experiences and existence of those other than you- namely, in your case, the female, trans*, nonbinary and nonmonosexual members of the LGBT community you claim to represent. If you had set Alive up as your personal blog there would be no problem. However, on your Twitter account you describe yourself as: “Alive! Gay Pro-Life Network- bringing together LGBT Americans in support of the right to life.”

This contradiction bothers me. You advertise yourself first as a ‘network’ that ‘brings together LGBT Americans’. Then you backtrack from this, saying that you are, in fact, a group of friends. Then you backtrack further and state that the reason that nobody but cis gay men are regularly mentioned in your blog is because you are one. Which is it, Andrew?

By the way, none of these things- being a network of LGBT Americans, a group of friends, or an individual- are illegitimate. They’re all perfectly valid ways to conduct your business online or offline. However, if you’re going to enter into discourse in good faith then it is your responsibility to give others reason to believe that you are who you say you are. There’s a reason I’m having this conversation with you and not, say, PLAGAL. PLAGAL are clear about who they are and take responsibility and ownership for what they do. I see no evidence that you have done the same.

I want, however, to return for a minute to your assertion that being a cis gay man means that you get to ignore the rest of your community without consequence. Sure, cis gay men get to have perspectives on any issues you please. However, those of us whom an issue directly affects- the cis women, nonbinary people and trans* men who have uteruses and are fertile- are entitled to question you. Our bodies are the site of the consequences of your opinions. Savita Halappanavar and Bimbo Onanuga were not cis gay men. They were women and their agonising deaths could have been easily prevented were it not for anti abortion laws in my country. The women of Termination for Medical Reasons are not cis gay men. The undignified and callous way in which their trauma is intensified could easily be prevented were it not for anti abortion laws in my country, too.

But I’m not here to talk about why I support abortion accessibility. I’m here to talk about my questions regarding you as an organisation. If you are a group of friends who represent cis gay men who are anti abortion, why not say so? Why claim to be something else?

Queerness and Language

The language used was not intended to offend anyone. I personally despise the word “queer” so I don’t use it in writing or in my personal discourse. That’s just me.

That’s an legitimate perspective. Thank you. I don’t want to press this one, as I know that ‘queer’ is a word that in some contexts continues to be used violently against people, and that it is contentious. However, as someone who identifies as queer, I’d have (more) concerns as to your erasure of people like me. How do you refer to people who identify as queer? Or, say, Queer Studies departments in universities?

Also, you don’t seem to have a problem with the word when it (seems to) suit your agenda.

Bullying

As someone who of course encountered anti-gay bullying in school, my intent was never to diminish the tragedy that continues to take place. The point was merely to note we have taken steps as a society to address the issue with new anti-bullying laws, awareness campaigns, etc. Yet unborn children do not have protection under the law when faced with the violence of abortion. Both are wrongs that must be ended in our society.

I have a lot that I could say on your view that abortion can be compared with homophobia. However, my intent with this post isn’t to discuss our views on abortion- there’s no question that we disagree strongly- but to raise my concerns regarding AliveGPN as a group. I’m happy to discuss abortion at a later date.

Instead, let’s go back to that Twitter account description: “Alive! Gay Pro-Life Network- bringing together LGBT Americans in support of the right to life”. If you are a network of LGBT Americans, as well as people who condemn homophobia and anti-gay bullying as strongly as you do those who provide necessary medical care to pregnant people, then why did Geoff find that these were the top non-abortion-related accounts also followed by your followers?

Pontifex, the Pope‘s English account, comes above all others. He has described those who do not share my exclusive fetish for the opposite sex as objectively disordered and having a “strong tendency ordered towards an inherent moral evil.

Paul Ryan repeats his election trick of coming second, despite campaigning tirelessly against marriage equality, adoption rights, and military career options for the LGBTQ community.

Mitt Romney trails Ryan considerably, both in homophobia and ranking, managing only to oppose marriage equality and unduly inconvenience children raised by same sex couples.

Michelle Malkin follows, her energies devoted to countering marriage equality.

The gender balance is further improved by the addition of Alveda King, who opines that “Homosexuality cannot be elevated to the civil rights issue. The civil rights movement was born from the Bible. God hates homosexuality“. 

Ann Coulter is perhaps included because she feels thatmarriage is not a civil right [for the LGBTQ community]”, or that she can “talk gays out of gay marriage”, or perhaps because she opposes sex education that may teach children about the “homosexual lifestyle”. She makes my job easier by issuing all quotes at a talk to gay conservatives.

If you are, as you say in your name, a network of LGBT Americans, and as you say to me, someone who is deeply concerned with anti-gay (pity about the LBTQIA folks, I guess) bullying, then why on earth do you associate with people who encourage and commit bullying against our community? What kind of real-live network of LGBT people overwhelmingly follows those who have made careers out of destroying our rights and our lives? Anti-gay bullying isn’t, as you say, a mere tragedy. It’s a travesty. And your so-called network is overwhelmingly made up of people who commit that travesty. You can say as much as you like that your “intent was never to diminish the tragedy that continues to take place”. Your actions, and your refusal to condemn homophobic organisations, say otherwise.

You could argue- and probably will- that you don’t get to control who follows you. Fair point. However, if you are being followed by homophobes then why aren’t you engaging with them? If you have an audience of people willing to listen to you and opposed to LGBTQ equality, when why aren’t you putting as much effort into winning them over to support your rights as you are into taking away the rights of pregnant people?

Finally..

If anyone shares our pro-life position and would like to offer their perspective, I would certainly welcome it! We all have full-time jobs and this is just a side-project for us so we’ll certainly welcome any assistance in building and improving it.

Feel free to email me: [email protected].

Y’know, I think you might have better luck with someone like PLAGAL than the Tea Cosy if what you want is help building your website! But thank you for engaging with me.

Right, Tea Cosiers! What do you think? Have you any questions for Andrew? Is there something I’ve missed? Am I being unfair? Am I being too damn nice? Let me know!

Responding to Alive

Blog for Choice Day 2013: Why I’m Pro-Choice

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Twelve women. Every day of every week of every year. Twelve women get on planes and ferries and travel to the UK from Ireland for abortions. Every day. In my lifetime that adds up to over one hundred and fifty thousand. Over one hundred and fifty thousand women- that we know of– forced to leave their country and travel, often alone, to unfamiliar cities to wait in hospitals they’ve never been to, to have abortions performed by doctors they’ll never see again, and then to take the long journey back home. A few months ago, drinking coffee before my early morning flight back from the UK I wondered how many other women were waiting in airports around the country. How many of them were taking buses in the chilly pre-dawn air to almost-deserted airports, sitting in departure lounges until their gates were announced, drinking overpriced tea at the gates? How many of them were alone?

I’m not American. Roe vs Wade didn’t give my fellow citizens the right to sovereignty over their own bodies. I’m from a place where these rights don’t exist and where an adult woman is valued only as much as a fertilised egg that implants inside her. I’m from a place where women are left to die in easily-preventable agony to serve the principle of ‘life’. A country that attempts to prevent suicidal children who have survived abuse only to become pregnant from leaving the country. Somewhere that forces women to carry their dead and dying fetuses to term against their wishes. A country that says that no risk short of a woman’s almost certain death is a valid reason to allow her to terminate a pregnancy- which is, by the way, largely to blame for the death of Dr Savita Halappanavar. No other risk to her health and well-being, no matter how severe, painful and permanent. Nothing but certain death.

I come from a country where the moment you become pregnant your life ceases to be your own and becomes the state’s. The only recourse we have- hundreds of thousands of women in a country of only four million citizens- is to leave. We’re lucky. Our country is small and close to our neighbours. There are people who will help us, from overseas hospitals who welcome Irish women with the care they need to organisations like the Abortion Support Network (please donate to them if you can! They need everything they can get) who provide both information and financial help to those who need it.

Sometimes I wonder how it’s possible to live somewhere like here and not be pro-choice. The evidence of this beautiful country of mine’s continued refusal to change, however, can’t but remind me otherwise. And then I remember that in my entire life I have only ever seen one woman in person speak out publicly about having had an abortion. I’ve been going to pro-choice demonstrations since I was old enough to vote. I just turned thirty.

I’m pro-choice because women and trans* men deserve respect and we deserve the dignity of a state that acknowledges that we are the only people with final say on our bodies and our destinies. Because pregnancy, childbirth and parenthood are momentous and change your life forever and everyone needs the right to decide for themselves if they will go through that. Because every child deserves to know that they were wanted and cherished from the moment their parents decided to have them. Because people who have abortions deserve professionalism and support, not degradation and shame.

And I’m pro-choice because banning abortion doesn’t stop people from terminating their pregnancies. It just makes the experience more difficult, traumatic and sometimes more dangerous. Banning abortion in Ireland didn’t stop people having abortions. It meant that we have to scramble to raise thousands of euro, to get time off work, find help to mind the families we might already have, and make a long and lonely trek to a different state. It meant that Irish women have abortions later than their UK counterparts, and that we are far more likely to choose surgical than medical abortions. Medical abortions, you see, while far less invasive, take longer. That is time that we don’t have. And it means that we buy our medical abortion pills online, without prescriptions or medical advice, and that when there are complications we are shamed by the medical professionals we go to for help. The only people prevented from having abortions in this state are those who either cannot afford or are legally prevented from travelling. People without financial support and asylum seekers are some of the most marginalised groups in this country, and by banning abortion we take away their right even to their own bodies.

I am pro-choice because we deserve dignity. We deserve to know that every time we walk into a hospital the doctors and nurses who work with us will be concerned only with our health and wellbeing. We deserve to choose the course of our own lives, and for that choice to be respected by our state. We deserve better than shame.

Blog for Choice Day 2013: Why I’m Pro-Choice