Article 1 - Men Can Help Prevent Unintended Pregnancy, Too
Article 3 - Open Letter to Dalton Conley
Article 4 - Reproductive Freedom 101 by Michael Schwalbe
Article 7 - Beyond Chastity Belts By Nicholas D. Kristof
Men Can Help Prevent Unintended Pregnancy, Too
By Brian Nguyen
Reprinted with permission of the author. First appeared on RhRealityCheck.org, February 12, 2008
Finding himself faced with his partner's unplanned pregnancy, today's man may well be confronted for the first time with a situation in which his opinions and beliefs carry less weight than those of his female partner. In absence of a critical day-to-day assessment of their gender-based privilege and power, privileged men rarely find themselves pushed to recognize the negative effects of their power on the lives of others. So when men create an anti-abortion movement that turns a woman's decision to have an abortion into a story of male victimization and loss of fatherhood, their reaction is understandable -- and even predictable.
But the men who claim that they have been victimized by abortion were not powerless to prevent their circumstances. When a couple uses contraception, they make an implicit agreement that they are not ready to be pregnant. For a man to not be ready to face these decisions, have unprotected sex, and then be upset with his partner for having obtained an abortion and deprived him of his reproductive rights is totally contradictory.
These arguments should in no way delegitimize the suffering that men may feel. Abortion can be a difficult experience, but it is one that women should always have the choice to make. No, men cannot have the final say on their partners' decisions. But they can assert their ability to be knowledgeable and supportive both before and after an abortion. Men can spread a positive message of partnership in decision-making. Masculinity does not have to entail a man making the final decisions in a relationship and giving up his personal aspirations to care for his child. Instead, being strong can mean that a man is willing to discuss family planning with his partner so that when pregnancy occurs, it will be intended, and he will be ready to support the family that he helped to create.
Reproductive responsibility has long been considered to be a woman's task -- but men are deeply affected by the pregnancy-related decisions women make. Abortion decisions have been considered anecdotally to affect the social, emotional, and physical health of men, especially when men are not considered valuable enough to even hear about the decision making process. As seen from November's "Reclaiming Fatherhood" conference in San Francisco, California, which gathered more than a hundred grief-stricken men who had been directly or indirectly involved in abortions, men do want to play a larger part in reproductive decision making -- even if they intend to allow only one option to women and therefore no decision at all. We can sympathize for men who have not had the opportunity to show a more compassionate and supportive side such that their partners would have more likely noticed their potential to both be helpful husbands and unfailing fathers, but we cannot overlook the fact that these sensitivities among men are late in coming. The majority of men seem to want to become part of pregnancy decisions only after having had unprotected sex, and without ever having previously considered their partners' desires to be pregnant with their genetic offspring -- or to be pregnant at all.
Male Involvement in Birth Control and Family Planning
Can men be blamed for sitting back and letting women take the lead in handling birth control? Biology has never forced men to bear the consequences of pregnancy. Nor has our society also asked men to shoulder this burden. The 2005 Debt Reductions Act reduced federal funding for state-run child support enforcement agencies - so men have been with even fewer reasons to be sexually and socially responsible. Meanwhile, the Child Support Protection Act of 2007 has stalled. But even the paternalistic US government is not solely to blame for men playing too small a part in the prevention of unplanned pregnancy. Medical research has been slow to provide contraceptive options for men and because many men assume that women have already secured a birth control method of their own, they have not demanded them for themselves. Current options that men have to prevent pregnancy are limited to condoms, periodic abstinence, withdrawal, and vasectomy -- and these options are woefully inadequate, when compared to options available to women. Yet even if there existed a better birth control option for men, the difficulties public health organizations have had convincing men to use condoms belie a more desperate situation, in which, for many men, possible consequences of sexual activity are considered only after sex takes place.
But men can do better and women should expect this of them. One simple and very concrete way men can take more responsibility for reproductive health and family planning has been made possible by the FDA approval of over-the-counter provision of emergency contraception.
Male Access to Emergency Contraception
If ever there was a perfect time for men to band together against a loss of fatherhood, that time is now -- with their demand for access to emergency contraception. Those who feel that they have been hurt by abortion have more reason than anyone else to spread knowledge of Plan B and support its widespread provision to men.
Men who have not been responsible enough to find out if their partners want to create an environment fit for raising a child may not be ready to be fathers. If men want to reclaim fatherhood, they need reclaim partnership first. To reclaim partnership, they need to take reproductive responsibility into their own hands, before becoming sexually active.
In August 2006, the FDA approved of Plan B as an over-the-counter emergency contraceptive option for women age 18 and up. But not until December of the same year did the FDA clarify that Plan B could be sold to men aged 18 and over for personal provision to women. While a publicity buzz accompanied the monumental status change of August of 2006, the access for men that came five months later has been inadequately emphasized, both to the demanding public and dispensing pharmacists. Neglecting male involvement as an asset for family planning can only worsen problematic behaviors that studies have already identified: that men tend not to concern themselves with pregnancy until after being involved in unprotected sexual encounters. If men can be made aware of this post-coital method, they may have an opportunity to become partners for the prevention of unplanned pregnancy.
Men can share the financial burden of Plan B, be advocates of Plan B usage, become knowledgeable resources on where to obtain Plan B, and defend women against any social stigma entailed in pursuit of emergency contraception. The added male resources and support of women are especially important considering that a 2005 survey of university students showed that almost half of students believed that Plan B was the same as RU-486 (the "abortion pill") and 100% of students felt that they would feel embarrassed or judged when asking for it. For some men, being acknowledged during his partner's concern over a possible unplanned pregnancy can also prevent a feeling of alienation from what has been socially considered a woman's responsibility.
As Plan B is most effective (89%) within 72 hours of unprotected sexual intercourse, with effectiveness decreasing with each moment after initiation of unprotected intercourse, a male ally can access Plan B when his partner is unaware of its existence, is at work, incapacitated, financially unable, or underage, and this could be significant for the prevention of unplanned pregnancy. Doubling the population of knowledgeable buyers of emergency contraception through the recruitment of men could go a long way in preventing unplanned pregnancies - in addition to the negative feelings entailed by abortion decisions.
In spite of the substantial promise of this role for men, cases have been reported of men being turned away from their purchase attempts at pharmacies. Along with pharmacists who have opted not to sell Plan B in general, there are pharmacists who, either as a result of a lack of education or an unfounded bias against male intentions, continue to limit the sale of Plan B. Men trying to buy for their partners or buy before having sex for "just in case" moments where condoms break have been turned away when unable to prove the age of their partners. Although the prevalence of denial to men has never been surveyed, its existence is alarming enough. For each man who is denied a chance to participate in family planning interventions, society loses its chance at creating a population of enlightened men, cognizant of their capability and responsibility to women and their future or present families.
A Role for Men That Supports Women
The plea for the assessment of male feelings of sadness and regret after his partner's abortion is not unwarranted. But men cannot appeal for this assessment without understanding the negative effects that male-directed decisions can have upon women. To equate the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy on men with the consequences for their female partners is untenable. Rather than taking away from women for their own gain, men should try to think of a role for themselves that supports both parties. Sex and the creation of a family should be based on love. Men may say that they love their partners, but when they become part of a movement that aims to deprive their partners of a freedom to pursue life as they themselves do, that is not love. Though men may find it difficult to accept a woman's ownership of her own body without having prior been aware of any other form of gender discrimination, men need come to understand a new role for themselves in today's society. As advocates for Plan B, male contraception, the inclusion of male perspectives in family planning, and better sexual health education, men today can ensure a more productive and loving relationship with women in the future.
On Asking More from Men: Reducing Abortion's Toll
While one would not know this from media and social science neglect of the subject, about half of all abortion-seeking women have asked a man to accompany them to the clinic or doctors' waiting room. This means that about 600,000 men (almost all of them the male sex partners in an ill-timed and unwanted pregnancy) sit for over an hour waiting to help the patient return home after the procedure. College students could help raise consciousness - and raise hell - about a situation here that cries out for reform.
A few years after sharing the experience in the late 1970s , I led a small research team in a large-scale effort to shed light on the experience of waiting-room men. A thousand mail surveys were secured in 1983-4 from men in the waiting rooms of 30 cooperating clinics in 18 states. About 200 of the respondents were later interviewed, and I became the principal author of the first - and still the only - academic book on the subject - Men and Abortion: Lessons, Losses, and Love (1984).
Throughout 1999 and early 2000 I conducted a small study to update my findings and see what difference, if any, 16 years had made. I was able to get completed surveys this time from 905 men in eleven clinics in eight states and Vancouver, BC. A separate survey I conducted also in 1999 had several students phone 127 clinics nationwide to ask what services, if any, were actually available - research that made plain a striking lack of male-aiding options - much as I had found 16 years earlier. Most recently, the 1983-4 survey was completed in 2004 by 766 men in 12 clinics, allowing for a rare longitudinal study over a 20 year time period.
Much of value has been learned:
- Sixty-five percent of waiting-room men in 2004, 73% in 1999, and 69% in 1983 would have liked to have accompanied their partner throughout the abortion - provided she first agreed. But only 23% of the clinics in 1999 made this possible.
- Eighty-seven percent in 2004 and 92% of the men in 1999 wanted to hold the hand of their partner in the Recovery Room, but only 24% of the clinics in 1999 allowed this. Where help for themselves is concerned, some twenty-five percent in 2004, 55% in 1999, and 74% in 1983 would have liked a private meeting with the counselor and their partner before the procedure. But very few clinics (only 40% in 1999) offer this.
- Thirty-six percent in 1999 vrs. 56% in 1983 would have attended an educational group session focused on contraception (techniques, effectiveness, costs, etc.). But this is unknown in actual clinic practice.
- Twenty-seven percent in 1999 vrs. 51% in 1983 would have joined a small-group discussion made up of other waiting-room men and a clinic counselor. Again, an option conspicuous by its absence from the scene.
- While in 1983 only thirty-two percent of 30 cooperating clinics did not have a pamphlet rack and/or reading material specifically designed to help men with their 1,001 questions about abortion (its impact, aftermath, etc.), in 1999 the figure rose to 78%. Given this record of neglect and barriers, in 1983 some twenty-five percent of clinic waiting room men were abortion repeaters. Sixteen years later the figure rose to 30%, and in 2004, it fell back only to 20%. (Interestingly enough, 51% of 905 men in 1999 indicated the couples' choice of a provider would have been influenced by the availability of male-aiding services. Half signaled their willingness to help pay for these options).
Were some 600,000 men in 2005 to have the (now unavailable) service options waiting room men seem to favor, we might have far fewer male repeaters in clinic waiting rooms. Instead, many such men might leave an abortion experience with a new mastery of contraception and family planning techniques, and with fresh resolve to help avoid any further resort to an abortion. Both anti-abortionist and pro-choice advocates could and should join forces to win overdue reforms here, and concerned college students might be just the agents of change needed to help get this started.
Arthur B. Shostak, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Department of Culture and Communication, Drexel University, Phila., PA, 19104
Abortion Clinics as Contraception Schoolrooms:
Helping Men Reduce Abortion's Toll The Supreme Court nomination of a local jurist, Appeals Court Judge Samuel A. Alito, Jr., calls overdue attention to the missing party where abortions are concerned, namely, the male who helped set the conception in motion in the first place.
Ever since Roe v. Wade a small number of heartsick or outraged males have gone to the courts seeking pre-notification of an impending abortion (an Alioto preference). This delaying move would allow the male to make a case for childbirth rather then the termination of a contested pregnancy. Some few have actually sought a ban. Courts at all levels have denied both pleas, siding over and again with Roe's clear declaration that a woman and her physician - and only these two - can decide the matter.
Is anything at all owed a male who finds himself involved in an abortion? Pre-notification would seem superfluous, as the only women who do not share the decision beforehand generally have good reason not to (they fear serious abuse, and/or believe the father is not the male of the moment). Similarly, granting a male a veto would result in a compulsory pregnancy, presumably prohibited by the Constitutional Amendment against all forms of slavery. The idea is noxious and unworthy of serious judicial consideration. Males, however, are owed something, namely, the sort of consideration at the heart of the Roe decision.
Males are owed an opportunity to do better next time, even as an abortion on request gives that opportunity to females. More specifically, males are owed the sort of education in contraception that just might help many avoid their first, or their repeat involvement in an ill-timed and unwanted pregnancy. Nearly 700,000 guys annually cool their heels in the waiting rooms of the nation's 400-plus abortion clinics. Were they soon to learn what most do not now know about contraception, the annual abortion count might drop by many tens of thousands every year thereafter. While nearly all of them regard the experience as one of the most trying of their lives, one in four is a repeater (as are one in three women).
If Judge Alioto wants to make a real contribution to reducing the frequency and toll of abortions he and other concerned jurists might give up their sexist support for odious nuisance pleas (pre-notification, etc.). In its place they might encourage legislatures to require abortion clinics to offer contraception education for waiting room males. As such advocacy would provide a common ground for both anti-abortion and pro-choice forces, this is a type of activist behavior by jurists even the Right might support.
We have a rare opportunity here to help a very large number of guys become more responsible sex partners and more mature individuals. Abortion clinics require them to wait for nearly two hours, time that could be spent answering their many questions about how to avoid a repeat appearance at the clinic. Judge Alioto and others serious about helping husbands (and single men alike) do better in these intimate matters should weigh educational policy options, rather than favor cruel impediments championed only by anti-abortion extremists.
Arthur B. Shostak, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Department of Culture and Communication, Drexel University, Phila., PA, 19104
Open Letter to Dalton Conley
December 11, 2005
Dear Dalton Conley,
Most of the responses to your recent New York Times op-ed, “A Man’s Right to Choose”, have been eloquently stated philosophical objections to your “bottom line” argument: “If a father is willing to legally commit to raising a child with no help from the mother he should be able to obtain an injunction against the abortion of the fetus he helped create.”
My perspective is that of a sociologist who has studied the front lines of abortion provision for nearly 30 years. You begin by positioning yourself as a supporter of Roe v Wade, suggesting that a valid reason to oppose Samuel Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court is that he might "nibble away” at that decision. Do you realize that your proposal would do far more than “nibble away” at Roe? It would create havoc in this already over-regulated and unnecessarily chaotic branch of the health care system! Your brief acknowledgment that implementing your proposal would be “problematic” hardly does justice to what in fact would occur. Here are just some of the issues that would doubtless arise with the paternal veto right you propose.
There would have to be judicial bypass machinery for those women who needed abortions to protect their lives and health. According to the Council of Scientific Affairs of the AMA, a first trimester abortion is more than ten times safer, in terms of maternal mortality, than carrying a pregnancy to term. For a small group of women, continuing a pregnancy might be life threatening; for others, there might be considerable health risks. If we have learned anything from the experience of teenagers with the judicial bypass system already in place for those who fear notifying their parents or (in some states) obtaining parental consent for an abortion, it is that this system can be difficult to access and often humiliating to confront. As the New York Times many elected juvenile court judges across the country are recusing themselvesfrom such assignments in order to avoid engagement with the abortion issue. When it is harder to see a judge, earlier abortions are pushed into later ones and some are prevented from occurring at all.
Your proposal would also require doctors’ documentation of threats to the life or the health of a pregnant woman. This of course would add to the cost. And given the extreme politicization of abortion within medical circles, doctors in conservative regions (and it would most likely be the red states that would adopt your proposal, if legally permitted) would likely deny an abortion in all but the most unambiguous cases. As always in the abortion wars, it would be poor women, mainly those of color, who would have the most difficulties in accessing abortions, even those procedures that were medically indicated. Your proposal would only make an already bad situation worse.
Twenty-five years of surrogate mothering in this country shows us that other things could go very wrong in the situation of coerced pregnancy that you propose. What happens when prenatal diagnosis in such a pregnancy reveals severe fetal anomalies? Does the father now have the right to change his mind about wanting the child that will result from this pregnancy? Even if he does relent and free the woman to choose an abortion, he is subjecting her to a later, more complex and considerably more expensive procedure. And will the father also have the right to monitor the pregnant woman’s behavior during her pregnancy? Will he obtain further court orders to forbid drug and alcohol use? If the pregnancy becomes “high risk,” will he ask a court to mandate bed rest, and to forbid sexual intercourse with others during the pregnancy? These are issues that have come up -- often explosively -- in the world of surrogate parenthood, but at least there the two parties have entered into a contract. Do you really want to subject women who have not contracted to be surrogates to this kind of control from a man from whom they are now estranged?
Imagine another likely scenario. In the course of a compelled pregnancy, the man involved starts a relationship with another woman, one who is hardly enthusiastic about raising another woman's child. This “new” woman may convince the man to give up his claims to the ongoing pregnancy and have a child with her! What happens then? A child born under such sad circumstances -- to a mother who did not want to be pregnant, to a father who has changed his mind because of a new relationship -- will most likely end up in the child welfare system.
The main problem with your proposal, of course, is that it is so utterly unenforceable. When a woman presented for an abortion, how would a clinic's staff necessarily know that a man (who may or may not be the actual father of the fetus) was contesting the procedure? Would all women seeking abortions have to come to the clinic with notarized statements of approval from the alleged progenitor? Would all the men giving such consent be subject to DNA tests? The fact that this proposal would be unenforceable would not, however, prevent it from making life miserable for some pregnant women, as well as for the abortion providing facilities themselves. Given the constant litigation that surrounds this field, there doubtlessly would be numerous lawsuits brought against abortion providers for failing to comply with partner consent provisions.
Your op-ed indicates that you are unaware of the considerable efforts to involve men in the abortion process in appropriate ways, efforts which have long been part of the culture of abortion provision. In the course of visiting scores of clinics and private offices, I have been struck by their serious commitment to address the need of male partners. Many clinics offer counseling to men, either with their partners, or, if requested, even without their partners. Some facilities allow men to accompany women throughout the abortion procedure (assuming the woman agrees), and take special care to inform men about such matters as post-abortion care for their partners and the possible emotional reactions to the procedure that both parties may experience.
One of the national leaders in this effort is Claire Keyes, who has worked as an abortion counselor since 1971 and is now both counselor and director at Allegheny Reproductive Health Center in Pittsburgh. She has worked with our fellow sociologist, Arthur Shostak, who many years ago, in his book Men and Abortion, eloquently articulated the claims of men to become incorporated in various ways in the abortion process. Both she and Art, however, firmly hold to the principle that when there is a dispute between partners over the resolution of an unwanted pregnancy, the pregnant woman is the one who is entitled to make the final decision.
Claire has been trying for some time to launch a website with information about ways to involve men in the abortion process. This would be a resource for other clinics and private offices that offer abortion, as well as for men whose partners are contemplating abortion. She has had a hard time raising the cash to launch this effort. Given your deep interest in this topic, perhaps you would consider help funding this effort? I am sure she would be delighted to talk to you more about this website.
Finally, I would like to comment on your op-ed as a example of “public sociology gone wrong.” Like you, I am a passionate believer in public sociology, and think its recent revitalization is one of the best things that has occurred in our discipline in years. I commend you for your many writings that are accessible to an audience beyond sociology. But in the case of this op-ed, I believe you have acted irresponsibly, and have done harm to a cause in which you profess to believe. Quite frankly, rather than seeing your op-ed as authentic public sociology, I view it as inappropriate “private sociology.” Based on your individual experience with a contested pregnancy, you are attempting to intervene in a policy arena that you seemingly know very little about.
I am aware that you have backed off somewhat since this op-ed originally appeared. I saw your appearance on Fox last week, where you said you “were only trying to be provocative” and I have seen your partial “clarification” that was posted on the Huffington site. But surely you realize, as a savvy sociologist, that an op-ed published in the leading newspaper of record in the U.S. (if not the world) will be read by more people (and reposted more frequently) than a longer, harder to understand semi-retraction on the Huffington Post. It is the original op-ed, not the clarification, that is now on many "pro-life" and father’s rights websites; it is your op-ed that I easily can visualize being assigned to high school students in parochial schools and so on. I thus think you need to be held accountable for what you said in the original Times article.
Why do I think this matters? Do I think it likely that your ill-considered proposal actually will come to pass? Probably not; I am not sure that even a Supreme Court with two George W. Bush appointees would go as far as you advocate. But, I do think -- in the classical fashion of radical ideas making somewhat less radical ones appear reasonable -- that you have helped soften opposition to Alito, who “only” advocates spousal notification. You also have helped revive the possibilities of partner notification as an antiabortion strategy. With all due respect, I believe one reason your op-ed continues to generate so much buzz is not only because of what it said, but because of who said it. Various antiabortion leaders and father’s rights spokesmen have said similar things for years about male prerogatives in abortion. But you, as a known progressive in an elite East Coast university, in a field known for its liberalism, offer a kind of legitimacy (and publicity) to these arguments that longstanding partisans can’t bring. Again meaning no disrespect, why do you think that Fox, the most conservative station on cable TV, invited you to appear only two days after the op-ed was published?
Conversely, why do you think that your op-ed is causing such anguish within the community of abortion providers? This group knows the real world consequences of ill thought out policy in the realm of reproductive services. When asked by pollsters, most Americans favor spousal notification, as they do parental notification for teens. But most teens already inform their parents of plans to have an abortion, as most women tell their male partners. The problem is with the minority of teens who cannot tell their parents, out of a fear of violence or of being thrown out of the house. Many in this country, especially the young and the poor, are already living in a “post-Roe” environment; abortion is so hard to access, and culturally so stigmatized, that we already are beginning to see tragedies similar to the pre-Roe era. In two recent cases that both involved unwanted pregnancies to teenage couples, the young men induced stillbirths in their girlfriends -- one by stomping on her stomach, the other by striking her belly with a baseball bat. One of these teenagers, a Latino from Texas, is now serving a life sentence in prison for fetal homicide.
Needless to say, these cases occurred in states with parental notification laws. I have no doubts whatsoever that if partner notification (let alone your even more extreme proposal of partner consent) were to be imposed, we would have similar tragic cases where desperate women would attempt to take matters in their own hands.
In closing, I would suggest to you that the luxury and privilege you and I have, as college professors, to try out provocative ideas and “thought experiments” in the classroom take on a quite different character when we venture into the print media, especially in an internet age. I hope you will use your many media contacts to disavow the idea that men should be able to compel a woman to carry a pregnancy to term.
I look forward to your response to this letter.
reprinted with permission of the author
Reproductive Freedom 101
by Michael Schwalbe
Published by CommonDreams
11 April 2006
Thirty years ago I learned the basic lessons that shaped my views on abortion. What I came to understand back then is that abortion is an essential right for women. But since that time, the anti-choice movement has stigmatized abortion so badly that many pro-choice people fail to defend it. The basic lessons about abortion are thus not being effectively passed on to the next generation. With the battle for women's reproductive freedom moving into a new phase of intensity, now seems like a good time for a review.
Lesson One: a woman is a person; a zygote or a fetus is not. To be a person is to be self-conscious and to be able to think, feel, hope, and dream. These are the capabilities that make us human and that give us claim to rights and protections not extended to plants and animals. Women have these capabilities; zygotes and fetuses do not. Which is why most sensible people (two-thirds to three-fourths of Americans, according to polls) agree that the health and well-being of a woman should take priority over the preservation of tissue that might someday be a human being.
The counter-claim that "life begins at conception" and that a fertilized egg is thus morally equivalent to a person is merely the expression of a peculiar religious belief, one that flies in the face of science, common sense, and other religious belief. If some people want to use this belief to guide their own choices, that's fine. But in a diverse, secular society such a belief should not be the basis for public policy. There is little hope of changing the minds of people who for religious reasons believe that fetuses have rights that trump those of grown women. It is worth pointing out, however, that a belief in fetal personhood does not necessarily preclude abortion. One can imagine a fetus to deserve the same moral consideration as a person, and yet argue that the state has no legitimate right to force a woman -- at risk to her physical and mental health, and with potentially life-altering consequences -- to use her body to provide someone else with nine months of life support. Judith Jarvis Thomson's essay, "A Defense of Abortion," is the classic statement of this view.
Lesson Two: if legal abortion is not available, women will have illegal and unsafe abortions, and many women will die as a result. Women have always sought to exercise sovereignty over their bodies, their sexuality, and their reproduction. This has included, and always will, the termination of unwanted pregnancies. When abortion is legal and performed by trained medical personnel, the procedure is safer than pregnancy and childbirth. When it is illegal and improperly performed, it can be extremely dangerous.
In pre-Roe days, an estimated 1.2 million illegal abortions were performed every year in the United States. An estimated 5,000 women per year died because many of those abortions were not competently performed under medically safe conditions. Today, researchers at the Alan Guttmacher Institute estimate that 80,000 women die annually, worldwide, from botched abortions in countries where the procedure is illegal. So just to be clear about the implications of Lesson Two: if Roe is overturned and abortion is outlawed, thousands of women will die as a result.
Lesson Three: No form of contraception, no matter how responsibly used, is 100% effective. Abortion must therefore be available as an option. The alternative is to say that once a zygote forms, a woman loses her right to decide whether to bear a child. Some religious fundamentalists, who believe that pregnancy is the price that must be paid for the sin of having sex, embrace this sort of primitive patriarchal ideology. Fortunately, a majority of Americans don't, and it would be good if more of them said so.
For anyone who believes in choice and yet has qualms about abortion, let me add Lesson Three, Part Two: reducing the number of abortions depends on young women at all income levels everywhere having access to comprehensive sex education and affordable, effective birth control. So if you want to reduce the number of abortions, resist the efforts of anti-choicers to undermine comprehensive sex education programs and to restrict the availability of birth control.
Lesson Four: pregnancy, birth, and child-rearing are fraught with far greater costs for women than for men. Although modern medicine has greatly reduced the health risks of pregnancy and childbirth, those risks are not negligible and are still borne entirely by women. It is women who suffer months of nausea and discomfort during pregnancy, as well as the pain of childbirth. It is women who are likely to suffer far greater emotional fallout from carrying and bearing a child. And, in a sexist society, it remains too easy for a man to evade the responsibilities of parenthood, while those responsibilities befall a mother for a lifetime.
What Lesson Four implies is that the choice to bear or not bear a child should ultimately be in the hands of the pregnant woman, because the stakes for her are enormous. Others can second-guess a woman's decision, but it's not those others whose health and lives are on the line in the same way. And so the proper role of others is to provide advice and support. The proper role of legislators, presuming they have an ounce of compassion, value individual freedom, and are not dedicated to preserving male supremacy, is to ensure that the conditions exist for women to make choices about reproduction.
Lesson Five: without reproductive freedom, including the right to abortion and access to safe abortion, women will never achieve equality with men. If women are forced to be mothers, they can't compete as equals with men who need not worry that pregnancy, or the obligation to care for a child, will impede their striving for success in work and politics. But impeding women's ability to compete with men is only part of the problem. Anti-abortion laws also send a message about the inferiority of women as a group.
Men presume themselves fit to make decisions that have life-and-death consequences for millions of people -- decisions about economic policy, agricultural policy, health policy, and war. Anti-abortion laws imply that women, in contrast to men, are not capable of making wise decisions in matters related to life and death. Laws that limit women's reproductive freedom thus reinforce the patriarchal view that women are not men's equals when it comes to dealing with the vital affairs of society and the world. In this archaic view, it is best if women stick to making babies, rather than making laws and history.
In the thirty years since I learned these basic lessons, I've learned some other things. One is that many anti-choicers lie outrageously. They lie about abortion being unsafe, and about abortion causing breast cancer and depression. They lie when they lure desperate and vulnerable young women to mislabeled "crisis pregnancy centers," where those women are emotionally manipulated and propagandized into carrying unwanted pregnancies to full term. They lie when they say they care about women's well-being, because genuine caring would mean respecting women's moral autonomy by telling the truth.
I've learned that in a patriarchal society women suffer from a lack of control over their lives, and that reproductive freedom reduces women's suffering by expanding that control. This is not just plausible theory. It's what is shown by the bulk of serious psychological research on the consequences that follow when women exercise their right to choose. I've learned about the high rates of sexual assault and sexual coercion in U.S. society. Victimization studies have found that the rate of rape and attempted rape among college women in the U.S. is about 28 per thousand. Which means that on a campus with 10,000 undergraduate women, there could be as many as 280 rapes and attempted rapes occurring each year. Under these conditions, any policy or practice that limits women's access to contraception and abortion is cruel and morally irresponsible. I've also learned that if women, like members of any oppressed group, do not stick together, they can be deprived of one right, one freedom, after another. When middle-class and upper-middle-class women do not defend public funding of abortions for low-income women, they are one step closer to losing their own reproductive freedom. When some women say, "I believe in choice, but /I/ wouldn't have an abortion," they make it harder for other women to choose abortion without being stigmatized. When women in liberal states do not defend the rights of women in regressive states like South Dakota and Mississippi, the rights of women everywhere are on shakier ground.
Women's freedom is likewise at greater risk when men who claim to believe in gender equality remain silent because they think abortion is only a women's issue.
Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) have recently introduced the Freedom of Choice Act in both houses of Congress. This Act would guarantee women's reproductive freedom in every state in the nation. People who believe in choice need to speak up in support of this legislation. Sometimes all you need are the basics to know what's right.
Michael Schwalbe is a professor of sociology at North Carolina State University. Email to: MLSchwalbe@nc.rr.com.
The Man Matters in Abortion Make Him Responsible, a Sociologist Urges.
Philadelphia Inquirer, April 17, 2006
By Faye Flam
When Drexel sociology professor Art Shostak was in his mid-30s, he got a call from a recent ex-girlfriend who told him she was pregnant. "We're getting an abortion," she informed him.
He learned that while they were together, the woman, then about 26, had gone off the pill temporarily and somehow didn't tell Shostak.
Now 68 and a father of four, the Brooklyn-born professor calls his abortion experience a life-changing event after which he spent about 30 years trying to apply his discipline to men and abortion.
I was skeptical as I rode out on the R5 to meet Shostak, now semiretired, for lunch at a cafe in Narberth. Aren't women the ones who need attention, help, and education to avoid getting pregnant? Just last week the New York Times reported in chilling detail how coat-hanger abortions are booming in El Salvador. Frightened young women end up with their reproductive organs ripped up and go to jail if they survive.
But Shostak slowly convinced me that men do matter in this, and that working with men can help.
There's a man, after all, behind each of those tragic cases in El Salvador as well as every one of the 1.4 million abortions performed every year in America. What Shostak wants isn't to coddle these guys but to make them face responsibility. It's a central tenet of sociology, he said, that human behavior is changeable. If we concentrate on making men less callous and less callow about sex, he thinks, there could be fewer abortions.
Besides his research on men and abortion, Shostak has taken his career in many directions - from futurism to the sociology of poverty. He also, more notably, studies what he calls the indelicate - things people find difficult to discuss. He wrote a book about oral sex long before Monica Lewinsky got it onto the evening news. He's taken on such explosive subjects as spousal abuse and incest because he believes sociology can help.
And here in America, many of us can't or won't discuss birth control and abortion in our personal relationships. If men and women were more rational, they'd talk it out before they hopped into bed. It would help men to avoid becoming unwitting fathers or parties to abortion. It would also allow women a chance to flee when faced with men such as Dalton Conley, who wrote in a recent opinion piece that unmarried men should have the legal right to halt a partner's abortion.
Shostak said he maintains a traditionally pro-choice position. He called "repugnant" the idea that a man could ever force a woman to have a baby. But he also agrees with the late Rev. William Sloane Coffin that abortion is an "unmitigated tragedy." He gathered much of his sociological data in abortion-clinic waiting rooms. Since patients must be accompanied, about half go with the man who got them pregnant. Most of the rest take a female or gay male friend.
Of those men who helped create the pregnancy, about a quarter were repeat customers. Either way, most of the men wanted counseling and contraceptive advice. They were hungry for information.
Shostak persuaded one Philadelphia-area clinic to counsel men, but that lasted only a short time because there was enormous demand and the clinic staffers were too busy checking under their cars for explosives, he said. But he said it would help just to have brochures with contraceptive information, video clips showing what's involved in an abortion, or even a wall poster showing how to avoid an unplanned pregnancy.
Many men in Shostak's studies said they were willing to accompany their partners into the procedure room, or at least the recovery room, where women must spend about an hour after the 10- to 15-minute procedure. "Little boys learn at some point they can't get pregnant," he said, and that influences the way they regard sexual relationships. But Shostak found that many supposedly grown men are eager to really grow up.
"A man should sweat a pregnancy he helped to create," Shostak said. It makes them better men, he said, and that could really benefit women.
Web site helps men cope with physical, emotional issues of abortion
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
By Sally Kalson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Half of all women who visit abortion clinics in this country are accompanied by their male partners. That amounts to somewhere between 600,000 and 750,000 men each year cooling their heels in the waiting rooms. The home page of www.menandabortion.com. Click photo for larger image.
Clinic staff could be reaching out to these men in ways that help them deal with their own feelings, and also assist them in helping their female partners with related emotional and physical issues.
Yet clinics nationwide don't necessarily take advantage of that opportunity. Nor do they necessarily do much to educate men on contraception, to help them become full partners in avoiding unplanned pregnancies in the future.
A new Web site, www.menandabortion.com, hopes to change that by posting a range of abortion-related information for men, and by prodding clinics to involve the male partners of their patients in a more active way. The site, which went online earlier this month, was created by Claire Keyes, director of Allegheny Reproductive Health Center in East Liberty, and Dr. Arthur Shostak, professor emeritus of sociology at Drexel University in Philadelphia. He has been arguing that abortion is also a man's issue since 1984, when Praeger published his book "Men and Abortion: Lessons, Losses, and Love," based on the experiences of 1,000 men in the waiting rooms of 32 clinics in 18 states. Ms. Keyes has long advocated that abortion providers include men in their counseling, and has done so at Allegheny Reproductive Health Center.
The Internet has lots of postings about men and abortion, although many come from an anti-abortion point of view. Priests for Life, for example, argues that men are too involved in abortion already, pressuring their girlfriends to end their pregnancies so they can keep having sex without the burden of a child that results. And the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family profiles several men who, it says, are "scarred for life" by regret over their partner's abortion.
Ms. Keyes and Dr. Shostak wouldn't disagree that men are sometimes the forgotten mourners in abortion. That realization, and their belief that men have a key role to play in preventing future unwanted pregnancies, lead them to team up for several joint presentations for the two abortion professional associations -- the National Abortion Federation and the National Coalition of Abortion Providers -- showing clinics how they can provide more support to men.
The Web site, they say, lets them take their advocacy to the next level. Ms. Keyes said the site had 700 visitors in its first two weeks. "Men have been ignored in this process for too long," said Ms. Keyes. "They didn't know what was happening to their partner, how to help her, what to expect. They were not being talked to their feelings, about birth control, or even about how the abortion was going to be done." According to Dr. Shostak, men need to be more involved in abortion for two essential reasons. "One, women deserve it," he said. "They're the ones who have to face the challenge of deciding on an abortion, having the abortion, living after an abortion. They deserve men who are more knowledgeable, who have more emotional integrity and are more reliable." The other reason, he said: "Men need to understand that manhood includes confrontation with one's own challenged emotions.
"Abortion for a man ought not to be a pass," he said. "It should be a thorough involvement. That way, men will begin to take more responsibility for contraception. Guys will drift into a relationship silently assuming that the woman is the only one who runs the risk of pregnancy so she must be taking care of it. That's just grievously unfair." In a 2004 article in Psychology Today, Michael Y. Simon, a California-based psychotherapist who counsels men after abortion, says that men who deny their feelings about the experience can wind up troubled, but most don't seek help.
"Men get the message that the best thing they can do in the situation is to withdraw," Simon said in the article, "forcing deeper or more traumatic feelings to be kept unconscious." The new Web site addresses some of men's emotional concerns: I feel guilty. Will we break up? What if she blames me? I wanted this baby, and so forth. There's also a page for men to share their stories, but because the site is so new it only contains three entries so far. All are from men who wrote their comments in a journal in the waiting room of Allegheny Reproductive.
In addition, the site offers answers to frequently asked questions: How do I find a quality provider? What kind of abortion can my partner choose? Can I be present during the procedure? Will she have any pain? How will I know if she's OK? How can I help her afterward?
"Clinics could be helping 600,000 men a year gain new knowledge, and also offer them the chance to share their feelings," Dr. Shostak said. "We're trying to move that along with the Web site. By highlighting the minority of progressive clinics that face this issue, we're trying to put pressure on the majority to catch up and get on the bandwagon."
The site highlights "approved" independent clinics that involve men as an active part of the abortion process. Seven are listed so far -- two in Pennsylvania, four in Texas and one in Baltimore -- and all have identified themselves as involving men. Ms. Keyes expects to add more names as word of the site gets out. She said that no nationwide providers such as Planned Parenthood have asked to be included yet.
( Sally Kalson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1610. )
Beyond Chastity Belts
By Nicholas D. KristofNew York Times May 2, 2006
Abortion may be the single most polarizing issue in America today, but there's one thing Democrats and Republicans mostly agree on: it would be better if Americans had fewer abortions.
The best way to reduce the number of abortions, in turn, would be to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. Every year, Americans have three million unplanned pregnancies, leading to 1.3 million abortions.
So it should be a no-brainer that we increase access to contraception, and in particular make the "morning after" pill available over the counter. That would be the single simplest step to reduce the U.S. abortion rate, while also helping hundreds of thousands of women avert unwanted pregnancies.
Plan B, the emergency contraceptive, normally prevents pregnancy when taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex — although it is most effective when taken within 24 hours. It is now available in most of the U.S. only by prescription, but the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have both endorsed it for over-the-counter use.
President Bush's Food and Drug Administration has blocked that, apparently fearing that better contraception will encourage promiscuity. But unless the libidophobes in the administration mandate chastity belts, their opposition to Plan B amounts to a pro-abortion policy.
One study, now a bit dated, found that if emergency contraceptives were widely available in the U.S., there would be 800,000 fewer abortions each year. And even though they are generally available only by prescription, emergency contraceptives averted 51,000 abortions in 2000, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
That's one of the paradoxes in the abortion debate: The White House frequently backs precisely the policies that cause America to have one of the highest abortion rates in the West. Compared with other countries, the U.S. lags in sex education and in availability of contraception — financing for contraception under the Title X program has declined 59 percent in constant dollars since 1980 — so we have higher unintended pregnancy rates and abortion rates.
Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium have abortion rates only one-third of America's, and France's is half of America's. France has made a particular push for emergency contraception to lower its abortion rate by making free morning-after pills available to French teenagers, without informing the parents. Nurses in French junior high and high schools are authorized to hand out emergency contraception pills.
That broad availability is the global pattern. While American women cannot normally obtain emergency contraception without a prescription (by which time the optimal 24-hour window has often passed), it is available without a prescription in much of the rest of the world, from Albania to Tunisia, from Belgium to Britain.
One thought that paralyzes the Bush administration is that American teenage girls might get easy access to emergency contraception and turn into shameless hussies. But contraception generally doesn't cause sex, any more than umbrellas cause rain.
The reality is that almost two-thirds of American girls have lost their virginity by the time they turn 18 — and one-quarter use no contraception their first time. Some 800,000 American teenagers become pregnant each year, 80 percent of the time unintentionally.
So we may wince at the thought of a 15-year-old girl obtaining Plan B after unprotected sex. But why does the White House prefer to imagine her pregnant?
Indeed, Plan B may be more important for teenagers than for adults, because adults are more likely to rely on a regular contraceptive. Teenagers wing it.
Granted, making contraceptives available — all kinds, not just Plan B — presents a mixed message. We encourage young people to abstain from sex, and then provide condoms in case they don't listen. But that's because we understand human nature: We also tell drivers not to speed, but provide air bags in case they do.
The administration's philosophy seems to be that the best way to discourage risky behavior is to take away the safety net. Hmmm. I suppose that if we replaced air bags with sharpened spikes on dashboards, people might drive more carefully — but it still doesn't seem like a great idea.
So let's give American women the same rights that they would have if they were Albanians or Tunisians, and make Plan B available over the counter. It's time for President Bush to end his policies that encourage abortions.