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Male Abortion

March 7, 2014

I was having a conversation with two very good male feminist friends (very good both in terms of our friendship and in their activism with regard to intersectional equality) about the topic of abortion.  By virtue of the fact only women (and transgender men who retain their womb and functioning ovaries, who form a very small minority of such cases) get pregnant, abortion is an issue which is at the very heart of patriarchal social mores.  The idea was proposed by one of my friends that there should be a legal process by which the male sperm-donor who fertilised the ovum should be able to ‘abort’ the zygote/embryo/foetus (z/e/f).  This means they would have no contact, no rights and no responsibilities towards the child once born.

This would initially seem to equalise the situation with regard to abortion, because after all it physically only affects the woman’s body and it should be the woman’s choice as to whether to have one.  This has led to many arguments about how unfair this is towards the man who may end up being a father against his will.  I am going to write specifically on the proposed idea of the ‘male abortion’, so despite my strong temptation to pontificate at length on that extended topic, I shall resist … for now …

I completely understand the theory of the male abortion, and on paper it would seem to be an excellent solution to men who do not want children but are going to become fathers because their individual little tadpoley-sperm won the race to that enticing sexy little ovum.  The conversation we had was brief and we did not go into depth, but I have found myself thinking about the idea more and more.  Ultimately I do not see how, in our society, this could possibly work in reality.

Patriarchy is unfair, we all know this (at least we should do, if you don’t what rock of privilege have you been hiding under?).  Even amongst single parent families (sidebar – statistically most of whom are headed by women, who become single parents through divorce or separation from their partner), female-headed single parent households have seen a reduction in their disposable income in excess of the reduction experienced by men.  When male/female parents are separated, the single father who does not have primary residence and care of the child or children sees a rise of 23% in their disposable income whereas the single mother who does have primary residence and care sees a reduction of 15%.  Even when the father does have primary residence and care, he is more likely to have a higher level of income.  This statistic surprised me, I did not expect such a pronounced difference.

This data clearly does not back up the socially-constructed idea that single mothers are bleeding the fathers/welfare state dry, or that maintenance provided for the family unit by the father is in any way a superfluous boon to the mother who is therefore living it up on the father’s hard-earned dosh.

Have a pretty graph to help explain how this disparity is growing and for both male and female-headed households the position is worsening* (I had to photocopy and scan, thus the quality):

The situation is getting worse.

(insert comment about the government here – mine are all too rude)

So, if a male should have the power to abort their responsibilities, and the female continues with the pregnancy, patriarchy has already seen to it that the household will be in poverty or near to it.  Pregnancy takes sperm and ova, but only the female carries the z/e/f.  Ultimately it is and should be her choice whether to carry to term as it is her body.  The decision after that as to whether to keep or put up for adoption could be made by the biological parents, and I do agree that if the mother wants to put up for adoption and the father wants to care for the child, he should be able to have that option, with financial support from the mother in exactly the same way the mother would receive financial support from the father.

But that is when the child is already born.  For the gestation period, it is the female’s right to autonomy over her own body that takes precedence.  Yes, it may seem unfair to the male, but pregnancy is a risk every time you have sex even with all the best contraception in the world.  If you don’t understand that, then perhaps you should not have sex…  just saying… or you should be prepared to deal with all the potential consequences including impregnating the female.

The social safety net provided by the welfare state has been steadily eroding for years, and is now disappearing in leaps and bounds.  The only way that male abortion could work would be if the patriarchal system was already overthrown and childcare was accepted as the responsible, difficult job that it is.  If the male is aborting their rights and responsibilities, then there must be a welfare state capable of stepping in to ensure the child is not suffering in poverty and sufficient affordable childcare options available should the mother wish to work and not be a stay-at-home carer.  As this will be ensuring the child’s upbringing is not impoverished, it will aid all single parents, not just women, but because patriarchy is the way it is it will mostly aid women who are in the majority of single parent-headed households.  Until this system in existence and patriarchal oppression overcome, the male abortion is not only a perpetuation of patriarchy, it is a male abdication of the responsibilities that come with the risk of male/female penetrative sexual activity.

Furthermore, I’m really not sure how the male abortion would work in real terms.  An abortion means there is no child.  A male abortion would mean the father having no contact, rights or responsibilities and treating the child as if it never existed.  A male abortion would only occur if the female was not having an abortion herself.  So what happens given the fact the child does exist?  What if the child wants contact with the father, or if the father suddenly changes his mind?  What about the extended family – they would also have to have no contact with the child under these circumstances.  How would this be legally enforced?  What are the ramifications, in the long-term?

So, the fact that a male cannot have an abortion is unfair maybe on the father, but guess what?  So is patriarchy.  I cannot see a way in which this concept could practically work, legally, practically under patriarchy, and socially.  Maybe you have a different view.  Please do let me know.  I am open to the idea in theory.  Overthrow patriarchal oppression, and maybe it will change my opinion, as it is a practical solution which I cannot see ever working.

* http://wbg.org.uk/pdfs/WBG-briefing_Sept-2013_final.pdf

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From → Ideology

5 Comments
  1. I rarely make forays into this topic these days because I am too used, and too tired, to being lambasted as some apologist for patriarchy, the pro-life lobby, the right-wing or occasionally all of the above. But I would like to put a couple of things in here as caveats though I agree broadly-speaking with the post and conclusion, I certainly do not think male abortion is any better than female abortion, the latter may at times be necessary but the very fact that this in itself can be a a situation is a tragedy.

    There is an element of inevitability about the income statistics. Men tend to earn more money than women. An iniquitous fact that has supposed to be being addressed statutorily for decades and is not. However the primary carer is often unable to work full-time and therefore not only faces the drop in income related to part-time work but often that of childcare costs as well. Add to this the lack of second income meaning that bills and costs need to now be met from one income rather than two. The absentee parent very often does not need the same provision of accommodation (and associated costs) as when they were living within the family dwelling and consequently the amount paid in maintenance can often be mitigated by the drop in rent/council tax/food & clothing bills – though subject to many factors in individual circumstances.

    However there are two things that are not addressed here, you rightly point out that having sex without contraception carries the risk of conception and the responsibilities on both parties is to take both steps and discussion as they see fit, and whilst there are examples of men who want to have children where women do not and even at times where the man may indeed think both parties are on message the fundamental damage caused by that is psychological not physiognomic and this leads me to my second point and one that is unquantifiable.

    Where a parent leaves, whether through volition or force the income is very often little consolation to the psychological damage that is caused to both parties (leaving aside the children for whom it is worst of all) but it is very often the parent who must leave their children for whom this is strongest for in many respects the raison d’être is no longer there. No increase in income will in any way mitigate this.

    On the income front in this instance it is far easier for a man to bury himself in his work and potentially earn due to overtime etc. than it is where the woman is the absentee parent as her earning threshold tends to be disproportionately lower as we have established. As a rule it is the man who is the absentee parent whether he chooses that situation or not and any form of legal redress is negligible and futile. It is one of the few areas of the law that favours the mother’s situation, indeed there are occasions when it must, but there are a great deal of examples of derelict fathers able to escape their responsibility whilst those who do not wish to be derelict are denied the rights they should be due provided this is in the interests of the child, not solely subject to the wishes of the mother.

    The damage this does is to pit many people who should be on the same side against one another by virtue of throwing the baby out with the bathwater approach adopted by some namely that because so much of the legal and social system is skewed firmly to entrench patriarchy that one of the areas that does not should be left alone. This is a missed opportunity and one from which I can see no benefit to anyone at all.

    • You are right; patriarchy is damaging not only for women. It is a point that many fail to see and antifeminists frequently misconstrue.

      Income disparity is one of the ways in which patriarchy is upheld, forcing an inequality which damages all.

  2. Just to clarify your point. Because “The Patriarchy” is unfair, we should reinforce these unfair aspects of “The Patriarchy” not work to abolish them?

    Also, how would it work? Well the same as adoption or “safe havens”. We have several options for legal parental surrender for women. It would be no different to offer legal parental surrender for men.

    • Giving up parental responsibility is not the same thing as the equivalent legal position as an abortion, as I explained with potential problems in my post. We do already have the legal position of being able to give up all parental responsibility for male and female parents, but that is something which tends to be taken from a person rather than them opting to give it up, unless there is a new person who wishes to take on the responsibility such as a new parent wishing to adopt the child in the case of the mother remarrying and so on.

      To clarify – yes, I mean to abolish the patriarchy, not reinforce it. The point being this is how patriarchy works so if we want a fair system for all we need to throw the antiquated oppressive system out.

      • You don’t get rid of oppressive systems by reinforcing them. Even if you are only reinforcing them for the wrong types of people. It is wrong to discriminate whites or males or tall people or rich people just as it is wrong to discriminate against people of color or women or short people.

        Having special rights associated with sex or skin color or sexual orientation or height IS discrimination. It is wrong regardless of who is being discriminated against.

        Also simply put. Having the legal ability to abandon children is much less problematic than having the legal ability to murder them. Abortion is much more problematic than Legal Parental Surrender, but we both agree that abortion should be legal.

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