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We Need To Talk About Cis Men As Abortion Allies

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When I read about Iowa’s dangerous and restrictive “life at conception” bill back in February, I couldn’t help but share my fury with my equally liberal husband. “Under this law,” I said, “a woman who has a miscarriage could be charged with a homicide.” He was angry, as anyone with a conscience should be. But it was the way he was angry that drove sharply home exactly how cis men misunderstand the panic women, transgender men, and non-binary/gender fluid AFAB people feel when these laws advance.

“Well, it’s [the conservative politician’s] wives who’ll be going to jail. If they want to send them to prison…” he responded, as though the problem would sort itself. Of course, these men couldn’t enact a law that would harm the woman they loved, and once it did affect those women, the situation would somehow…

It was the ellipses, that dying, dismissive pause that spun me into a sputtering rage, not just at the lawmakers seeking to control pregnancy, but at my husband and all cis men who think they’re helping. Because I’d heard that ellipses before, in statements so similar to what my husband had just said. That ellipses revealed the privilege with which cis male allies can view “personhood” laws; it’s all hypothetical. It’s bound to fail, eventually, once cis men understand that the ramifications can affect them. It doesn’t matter that someone like Purvi Patel, who was tried and sentenced under a feticide law, must face criminal charges, media scrutiny, public shaming, and incarceration before legal precedent can be set to protect pregnant people in the future. Lives must be destroyed in the process of exposing the faults with these archaic laws, and the person at the center of the maelstrom will never be a cis man.

How can the assumption that everything will right itself once a cis man is inconvenienced ever be considered a progressive or helpful stance? As I tried to explain to my husband why laws like this are a serious problem when they’re proposed and not just after a pregnant person is led to the sacrificial altar, I found my mind whirling with memories of all the times I’d heard exactly this line from a cis man claiming to be a pro-choice ally. “When it affects their daughters…” “When it affects their wives…” or the more insidious, “When it affects their mistresses.” Two of those arguments suggest that it’s okay for the wife, the daughter of a pro-life man to be destroyed, but the third implies that it’s definitely okay if the person in question is a woman of loose morals. In all of these statements, pro-choice cis men reduce pregnant people to property and assume that dynamic will settle, rather than perpetuate, the problem.

But it does perpetuate the problem. There is a healthy amount of “what about the father’s rights!” arguments presented by pro-lifers, wrestling the concerns and desires of cis men directly into the center of the issue. When pro-choice men do the same, the discourse is taken completely out of the hands of the very people it actually affects. The conversation is no longer about the bodily autonomy of a pregnant person, but about the right of cis men to procure or prohibit abortion for another person.

This also relies on reducing reproductive rights to a “women’s issue”, a narrow label that excludes pregnant people who aren’t women. While the mainstream feminist focus on abortion as a women’s rights issue carries the bulk of the blame for that (sometimes purposeful) exclusion, I have to wonder whose property a pregnant transgender man must become before cis men will include him in their stance.

Cis men cannot and never will grasp the feeling of utter helplessness and violation a person feels at discovering they are carrying an unwanted pregnancy. Therefore, it is not for them to sit back and watch as those of us who can become pregnant shoulder the burden of legal and societal consequences. It’s simply not enough to spout the same tired lines about male politicians being hypocrites and ministers secretly paying for their good Christian daughters’ abortions. Those scenarios center cis men in a conversation that is not, should not, and will never be about them or their needs.

“I don’t care about some politician regretting something because of his wife or daughter,” I sputtered at my husband that night. “I care about the people this will actually harm.” But I don’t know if I got through to him. How can anyone convince a cis man that his view is not superior to that of someone who’s capable of becoming pregnant when that ability itself has defined the unimportance of those people for centuries? No matter how good his intentions, can a cis man truly buck the societal programming that tells him he has critical wisdom to impart on the topic?

I’ll leave it at what I ended up telling my husband that night: if a cis man can’t form views on anti-abortion laws without centering himself in the narrative, he simply cannot be considered an abortion rights ally.

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  1. Angel Yount
    Angel Yount

    PREACH. I have the same issue with my bf. Sure he thinks the laws are stupid and tries to empathize but frankly, I don’t think they can wrap their brain around it. Which is…..less than helpful, really.

    March 29, 2017
  2. Allie

    As a woman of child-bearing age, I will say that my choice to not have children is definitely informed by the current political climate. It is frankly too risky to become pregnant, when I know that my future access to health care is not guaranteed. What if there is a problem with the pregnancy, and I am legally prohibited from getting the care I need? What if I have a miscarriage, and end up in prison for murder? I do not want to die or lose my legal freedom, solely for the *chance* of having a baby. The US is not a safe country in which to be pregnant, and that already affects at least a generation of women. It doesn’t matter if the law won’t hold up in the long run, the damage its existence is causing has already begun.

    That would be my argument to men-centering abortion rights allies, anyway. This is not something that will hypothetically harm someone down the road. This is something that already hurts women (and other uterus-bearers) now, and is already changing how we navigate the paths of our lives.

    March 29, 2017
  3. DanB

    I am a cis male (white + straight) and my fervent support for abortion rights is not rooted in my own perspective but in basic concepts of human dignity and autonomy.

    Abortion rights are probably the most important issue for me politically, I think because the injustice and cruelty of the myriad restrictions represents the worst a government can do to its people.

    I’m still not over the horrible results of the last election but the thing that’s still enough to nearly bring me to tears is how utterly robbed we were of securing a strong choice majority on the Supreme Court.

    Then I think of the viciousness of the global gag rule and wonder if the effects of that are even worse.

    So I like to think I’m a true ally.

    (BTW I found this site from a comment on Jezebel about the great Buffy recaps — I burned through the existing ones in about ten days — they are awesome!)

    March 29, 2017
  4. Nocturnal Queen
    Nocturnal Queen

    It’s also usually not the men who prevent women from having abortions that need to take care of the children. They hire a nanny or dump the babies on their wives. They can force women into giving birth to their babies but don’t have to take any of the consequences except financial.

    March 29, 2017
  5. Dani

    In the current political climate, I am thankful that I cannot get pregnant. The idea that if I did, my wants, needs, desires, and even my personal health would cease to by my own is horrifying. In these people’s eyes, the mother becomes a non-entity with no rights. Especially since these same people seem to not give a damn once that baby is born. Plus, these laws are really scary. Everyone says “Oh, it’ll never pass” but that’s not the danger. They are a shiny distraction so that “more reasonable” abortion restrictions CAN get passed, so instead of a sweeping anti-abortion law, they slowly eat away at it, getting to the same endpoint, just at a slower rate. Conservative like to call liberals “pro-Abortion” instead of “pro-choice”. I’m just “pro-stay the f**k out of my body”

    March 29, 2017
  6. FeralSwitch

    Fuck yeah, Jenny. Someone can be doing their best and still not break through their programming. Strategically, I’ll take that kind of ally but OH it’s so frustrating.

    March 29, 2017
  7. mydogspa

    Before Roe v. Wade passed I remember reading the funny papers and, about once a week, there was a small article on the adjacent page that said a young woman had died from a back alley abortion. At the time we lived just outside Philadelphia in Valley Forge. Research now shows that about 5000 women died in the US from these abortions per year until Roe passed.

    Because abortions themselves were illegal, they were provided by organized crime at twice the price using the same doctors and nurses the clinics used when they were legal. So abortions were available, just not to those who couldn’t afford them (poor, people of color). The staunchest anti-abortion advocates were the very ones that would provide them, prohibition speak-easy style, run by the Capones and Don Corleones of the day. Demand was huge, and so was the payoff, just like booze during prohibition (gads, when will these folks EVER learn?)

    Once Roe passed, all that went away.

    And now it’s all coming back. Being a cis-male, I wish I could do something to help. But I’m not sure anything will happen until the back alleys are awash in blood again and voters wake up to what they’ve truly asked for.

    It took prohibition 10 years to get repealed. I hope it’s not that long for abortions, because that represents a total of 50,000 women or more who will die because of some altruistic ideology.


    March 29, 2017
  8. Stormy

    I’m so grateful for my boyfriend, who volunteers at the local women’s shelter and has learned the fine of art stepping back and saying “What do you need me to do?” and then doing it.

    On our second-ish date, I got barred at the door of a restaurant that neither of us realized had a dress code. When I told him, he looked furious…and asked “Do you want me to talk to him?” I said no, let’s go somewhere else. So we did. No arguments, no chest-thumping, no attempts to persuade me otherwise.

    It’s a seemingly little thing, but he admitted that earlier in his life, he would have ignored what I wanted out of the situation and caused a scene for his own satisfaction. It was after he completed training at the women’s shelter that he realized when his voice was appropriate and when he needed to amplify other voices. I don’t know what that training involved, but perhaps it ought to be required across the board.

    March 29, 2017
  9. =8)-DX

    “can a cis man truly buck the societal programming that tells him he has critical wisdom to impart on the topic?”

    Well, you got me there… oh and the daughters/wives thing sounded like a “pointing out hypocrisy” thing, but he really thinks that? I’m dumbfounded. Go abortion rights for all pregnant people anyhoo!

    March 30, 2017
  10. Me

    It’s stupid, really. Those anti-abortionists don’t care what happens after the kid is born. Someone or something can convince/force the mom to not go through with the abortion, “Yay a baby was saved!’ yet that same mom could regret not going through with the abortion when she had the chance and once reality sets in and the baby is real, she could either dump the baby somewhere to let it die, give it up for adoption where it might linger for years from foster care to foster care facing unknown perils, or the mom can keep the kid and neglect it.
    A while back I did a college paper on abortion and religion it all came down to the mother’s life being more important than the unborn child’s life because the mother is already alive, and an unborn child can still potentially die before it is born or shortly thereafter. That is not to say that religions applaud “convenience” abortions, but what I am getting at is that all these “pro-life” people also call themselves “deeply devout” yet they don’t even know the basic of basics, a mother’s life triumphs over an unborn child’s life, and a pregnancy is always a risk, whether or not you are thinking of abortion.

    March 30, 2017
    • Lauren

      Thank you for that, it’s an argument that I hadn’t heard (amazingly)! Can you provice any citations so I can beef up some of my own debates? Or at least, where did you begin your research?

      April 22, 2017
  11. Cherry

    Articles like these are why I love reading your blog so much. No matter how much I feel like I’ve thought through an issue, you always make me think it through again and come up with a better way of seeing it.

    March 31, 2017
  12. Eh Up
    Eh Up

    Another point to mention if someone says, “Oh, they’ll understand when it’s their problem” – they won’t, or at least you shouldn’t bank on it. The ability of some pro-lifers to compartmentalize and justify their choices is beyond breathtaking:
    Most of these politicians will, if necessary, quietly pay for their child or partner’s abortion and go right on campaigning against the same thing for people who lack the money and connections to obtain safe medical care on the black market.

    March 31, 2017
  13. anon

    “Under this law,” I said, “a woman who has a miscarriage could be charged with a homicide.”

    You berate others for only talking about women getting pregnant or having abortions, not only here but in a more recent post. Yet you make the same generalization yourself!

    I don’t think it’s necessary to list the possible identity of every single possible person who could get pregnant, I think “women” is fine. But if you’re going to make a big point about how terrible and exclusionary it is to frame it as a women’s issue, at least be consistent about it yourself.

    March 31, 2017
    • JennyTrout

      Man, you’re right, I should have changed that quote and just lied about what I said to make myself look better. That would have been the ethical thing to do.

      March 31, 2017
      • H

        ilu so much, Jenny

        April 1, 2017
  14. AltoFronto

    Point of Interest:

    You described these laws as “archaic”, Jenny, but I want to point out that even the Puritans, who were so notoriously devout they colonized America, largely permitted abortion before the Quickening – or baby’s first movements in-utero.

    It was the Victorians who started the campaign against women’s freedoms, but even they recognised the need to perform abortion to save the mother’s life.

    Foetal personhood is something that’s only really been around since the 1980s, along with the current wave of the Religious-Right.

    We think of Ye Olde Days and believe we must be more sophisticated and progressive in our modern ways, but America really is in the Dark Ages when it comes to this stuff.

    April 7, 2017

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