Sunday, 22 December 2013

Should Men Shut Up About Abortion?

I recently came across an article where a pro-choice woman argued that men should never be able to speak on women’s issues like abortion because they can’t get pregnant.  She writes, “something about a man, a person who could never fully appreciate the terror upon seeing a positive pregnancy test, a person who could walk away from a pregnancy if he so chose, a person who will never DIE in childbirth, something about him telling a woman that she should be forced to keep a pregnancy sends me into a rage.

I hear similar sentiments coming from a lot of pro-choice people and on one level I can definitely understand where they are coming from.  I find it really annoying when people try and talk into my life and judge me when they haven’t walked in my shoes.  However, I think when you take a closer look at this argument it becomes clear that the position is flawed.   

Firstly, men aren’t the only ones who will never have to go through an unwanted pregnancy.  Many women never go through any kind of pregnancy and many pregnancies are planned.  Those women will be just as ignorant about the experiences women considering abortion have.  It seems strange to me that the mere possibility of getting pregnant would give someone the right to speak out on reproductive issues even though they haven’t walked in the shoes of someone experiencing an unplanned pregnancy when men would be barred from that right.  If there is a morally relevant point to be made for men not speaking about abortion it seems like it would have something to do with the fact that they can’t fully appreciate the trauma involved in an unplanned pregnancy.  So, if that matters it seems women who haven’t had an unplanned pregnancy should have to stay silent as well. 

Secondly, it sounds like they’re saying that if you can’t have first-hand knowledge of another person’s experience, then you can’t make moral judgments about what that person does. Yet, I can think of a lot of scenarios where even if someone doesn’t have first-hand knowledge of another person's experience they can still make moral judgments.

One example my pro-life friend Josh Brahm uses involves the following real-life scenario: Andrea Yates suffered from severe post-partum depression and tragically drowned her five children.  Now, I have never had a first-hand experience with post-partum depression and men very rarely experience it.  I can only try to imagine what it would be like to suffer enough to do something like that, but I will always fall short of a true understanding of Ms. Yates’s situation.  Most people would not be able to truly understand her situation, women and men included.  However, I think I and most other people including men can say that what Andrea Yates did was wrong.  Although she was obviously suffering greatly she should not have done what she did and her actions should continue to be illegal. 

Another example could be taking alcohol during pregnancy.  Drinking while pregnant can cause a child to be born with physical and mental abnormalities.  If men can't make moral judgments on what women do while pregnant, then they wouldn't be able to say that it would be wrong for a woman to drink while pregnant, or advocate drinking while pregnant to be made illegal.  However, I think men should be able to make those kinds of moral judgments. 

Another reason I don’t think men should shut up about abortion is because I don’t think anyone should shut up about abortion.  I want to be on the right side of history and I think the right side is the one with the best arguments.  The thing is, humans are terrible at taking a critical look at their own views.  So, a good way to find out whether the pro-choice position is actually better than the pro-life position is to talk to pro-life people and see if our arguments hold up against theirs.  But this kind of dialogue is impossible if we insist that half the population needs to shut up.



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