Published in the May 1999 issue of Liberty

Abortion: Not for Women Only

by Barry Loberfeld

Of the many things said by pro- and anti-abortion activists in the wake of the October 23, 1998 sniper murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian, the most striking (to my mind, at any rate) was his eulogization as a man who gave his life for a "woman's right to choose." That's exactly right: He was a man martyred for a freedom that he as a man did not possess.

Think about it: Just what is it that a woman aborts? This purportedly complex and multi-faceted question actually has a very simple and precise legal answer: any responsibility to the offspring she conceived. That's it. Except we might add that a woman retains this right even if she chooses to forgo an abortion. All she has to do is put the child up for adoption -- the alternative favored by the so-called "right-to-lifers" -- and that's that. This is the state of affairs that, in the words of constitutional alchemist Laurence Tribe, guarantees "equality for women ... the same ability to express human sexuality without the burden of pregnancy and childbirth that has always been, by accident of biology, available to men."

Now I didn't know that. Neither, I suspect, do most men. What we do know is that there is emphatically no "equality" for men, i.e., no same ability "to express human sexuality" without the inability to escape the consequences of an unwanted pregnancy -- which has always been, by no accident of law, available to women. One example: Miss Jones informs Mr. Smith that he has impregnated her. Can he, in Roe v. Wade America, legally respond: "Thanks for the info. In the spirit of reciprocity, I wish to inform you that I hereby exercise my constitutional right to abort all legal responsibility to the offspring I conceived. Have a nice life"?

Consider how pregnancy is viewed by our legal paradigm. It is seen, not as the development of a new individual, one for whom both parents possess rights and responsibilities, but as a condition -- a state -- of a woman's body. No other body is involved. The consequent position, as phrased by Canadian feminist Kathleen McDonnell, is: "It is our bodies and our lives that are at issue, so the decisions must be ours as well." The woman alone has the right to determine whether a pregnancy will be terminated.

There is no "child" and thus no "mother," but there is a "father" -- with his parental responsibilities strictly defined by paternity laws. And therein lies the problem. Where an individual has no rights, he has no responsibilities. If a man's rights end at the point of ejaculation, so too do his responsibilities. The fundamental inequality of current law is that it forces a man to bear the consequences of an act in which he plays no part. Since a man is allowed no voice and no choice in the decision whether to abort, he cannot be held responsible for the outcome, be it termination or childbirth. If the woman alone possesses the right to determine whether a pregnancy will be terminated, then she alone possesses the power to determine whether a child will be born. For all practical and legal purposes, it is the woman's decision not to abort that now constitutes the true moment of conception. Roe v. Wade, which began by defining human life according to the fiat of a plurality of Justices, ends by transforming human reproduction into an act of parthenogenesis.

Those feminists and fellow travelerettes who would object to these conclusions simply refuse to recognize what is implicit in their own position. If it is "her body, her decision, and her right," then it is her responsibility -- not the "father's" and not the taxpayers'. There's just no getting around it. If, as so many "pro-choicers" tell us, faulty contraception shouldn't force some woman into unwanted motherhood, then why should a leaky condom force some man into unwanted fatherhood? And if no "male-dominated legislature" (as if it would be acceptable with an all-female one?) should be allowed to dictate to a woman whether she will become a mother, then why should this same woman be allowed to dictate to any man whether he will become a father?

It is absolutely outrageous that grown men are denied a right that is extended even to fourteen-year-old girls. On the political front, this means confronting lawmakers. On the moral, it means challenging feminists to demonstrate some real commitment to their alleged ideal of equal rights for men and women. If they are going to continue their campaign for "choice," then let them expand it to include reproductive rights for man. And if they are going to stand by Roe v. Wade, then let them also stand by its implications -- all of them.

What I'm talking about is this: In her 1997 Year-End Report, Kathryn J. Rodgers, Executive Director of the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, while decanting the house rhetoric about women's "constitutional right to reproductive freedom" (and asking folks to send the "most generous contribution you can possibly make"), digresses briefly to lament that "somehow an old myth [has] reasserted itself. A myth that child care is not a societal responsibility, but a person and individual responsibility -- in fact, the primary responsibility of women, whether they work outside the home or not." Translation: Childbirth, the decision, is the right of the woman; child care, its consequence, is the responsibility of everyone else. Or in Naderite terms that might be more familiar to NOW members: Decision-making is privatized, while consequence-taking is socialized. And in Rodhamese: It Takes a Village (and a government to make sure the village knows it). The hypocrisy and selfishness of all this is so glaring that only a Patricia Ireland could miss it.

How do we account for the chasm between the moral authority "feminism" commands and the actual amorality feminists demonstrate? Even more jarring is the disconnect between feminist rhetoric and gender reality. For decades now, feminists have held up as the primary example of sexual inequality the alleged "attack" on women's reproductive rights by "men." You would think that in 1973 the (all-male) Court nullified paternity laws but left maternity ("abortion") laws standing. You'd never guess that we live in a country where a woman has an inalienable right to her own body, but a man has an inalienable responsibility to the fertilized egg (one to be shared, in due course, by the taxpayers). But just who is attacking whom? Let's not indulge even for a moment the calumny that all men oppose legalized abortion (because they want to keep women "barefoot and pregnant"). Rather, we'll ask: What difference would it make -- to feminists -- if it could be shown that all men support legalized abortion? The answer is quite clear:

* Catharine MacKinnon: "So long as women do not control access to our sexuality, abortion facilitates women's heterosexual availability. In other words, under conditions of gender inequality, sexual liberation in this sense does not free women; it frees male sexual aggression. The availability of abortion removes the one remaining legitimized reason that women have had for refusing sex besides the headache."

* Judy Shea: Hugh "Hefner's misogynistic playboy philosophy inevitably leads to the destructive, dewomanizing practice of abortion. A[t] its core the playboy ethic is anti-woman and anti-child. The reality of the possibility of pregnancy and childbirth interferes with the Hefner dream of multiple partners and everlasting orgies."

* Dorchen Leidholdt: "Sexually liberal men support abortion for women not because they want women to be able to control their bodies but because they know that unrestricted abortions heighten women's availability to men for sex."

* Susan Maronek: "Abortion, in the final analysis, works to the advantage of the exploitative male, not for the female.... Abortion is a male sexual fantasy come true."

* Sonia Johnson: Men "knew precisely what to do when women began refusing to honor the old contract, and I am absolutely convinced that their move was conscious, plotted, and deliberate.... So the men let us have legalized abortion, and almost instantly the energy drained from the [feminist] movement, like air from a punctured balloon.... [Roe v. Wade] keeps us colonized, our bodies state property and our destinies in their hands...."

Feminist "thealogy" out-Calvins Calvin by damning men if they don't support reproductive rights for women -- and if they do. Indeed, it out-Orwells Orwell, as this metaphysical conviction of "controlling women's bodies" -- now with a smutty desire for sex-without-childbirth as the motive (in contrast to women's idealistic support for their abortion rights) -- convicts those who, again, possess no such rights themselves. Like all forms of bigotry, it exploits its hate objects by scapegoating them for everything.

Ultimately, it's ludicrous to continue to ascribe to "feminism" values that -- crumbling slogans aside -- feminists themselves disdain. Those for whom the principle of equality means respecting the individual liberty of all, cannot allow it to remain feminist Newspeak for a society in which women exercise their rights and men do their duty.