What's Tony Thinking

Abortion: The Missing Person


Abortion is in the news as new, and extremely conservative, legislation is passed in Alabama and Mississippi and considered elsewhere.

I’ve never found abortion an easy issue to resolve in my heart and mind. I preferred it when we spoke of it as “tragic,” and the goal was “safe, legal and rare.”

As the new state legislation swings to a pro-life extreme, it strikes me that there’s a missing person in this debate. The pro-choice movement advocates for women and their rights. The pro-life moment for the unborn and their rights.

Who’s missing? Men, males, fathers. Last time I checked they/ we were still required for conception.

Some say, “Oh, the men are involved. They are the one’s driving anti-abortion legislation, trying to control women’s bodies.” But that’s not quite true. Women legislators and pro-life advocates are playing key roles in that movement too.

What I mean by bringing up the topic of men and abortion is that I think we men need to take a look at ourselves here, and at the roles we are playing . . . and not playing.

I remember a study, probably twenty years ago now, that indicated the major factor in leading a woman to choose abortion was the absence of a reliable male/ father. That made sense to me. Raising a child is demanding and costly in several senses. Without a father on board and supporting, it’s daunting, especially for a woman who is poor.

This hasn’t changed, but may have gotten worse. In a recent column David Brooks wrote of how disconnected working class men have become. Brooks drew from a recent study titled, “The Tenuous Attachments of Working Class Men.”

Here’s an excerpt from that column:

“Their private lives are as loosely attached as their economic lives. Many of the men expressed the desire to be good fathers to their children — to be more emotionally expressive around their kids than their own fathers had been with them. But they expressed no similar commitment to the women who had given birth to those children. Some found out they were fathers only years after their children were born.

“’Nearly all the men we spoke to viewed the father-child tie as central while the partner relationship was more peripheral,’ Edin (author of the study) and her colleagues write. Naturally, if the men are unwilling to commit to being in a full family unit, the role they actually end up playing in their children’s lives is much more minimal than the role they really want.”

If men want to reduce abortion, they need to be responsible fathers and husbands.

But there’s more. We’re talking about abortion now in the wake of the “Me-Too” movement and after years of institutionally protected sexual abuse on the part of men.

In other words, the record of men here isn’t very good. Undoubtedly many children have been conceived as a result of rape, incest and sexual assault.

Requiring women who have conceived children under such circumstances to sustain the pregnancy and become mothers — as the Alabama legislation does — is to victimize such women twice.

Brooks also notes that the men in the study cited above have few ties to church or religion.

“The men are also loosely attached to churches. Most say they are spiritual or religious. But their conception of faith is so individualized that there is nobody else they could practice it with. They pray but tend to have contempt for organized religion and do not want to tie themselves down to any specific community.

“I treat church just like I treat my girlfriends,” one man said. “I’ll stick around for a while and then I’ll go on to the next one.”

Churches have a part in this. Mainline churches have often lost connection to working class people, including men.

I don’t support unlimited abortion rights or celebrate them, as New York’s Governor Cuomo did after extremely liberal legislation was passed there.

But I do understand that recourse to abortion is a reflection on a society where social ties are frayed, where men are too often either not fulfilling their responsibilities as fathers or worse, they are sexual predators.



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