As reported in various news media last week, The House Public Health Committee voted 5-2 in favor of a bill by Rep. Justin Humphrey that would require women to get written permission from the father of the child before a pregnancy could be terminated, despite objections from opponents that the measure is patently unconstitutional.
In reaction to this, on Twitter I remarked…
Everyone who claims to fear “Sharia law” in the US but who supports this is an asinine hypocritical bastard.
The comment got some likes and RTs, and resulted in some conversation with like-minded associates. But one fellow, Ian Hayes, took a more measured approach and wanted to tease out some of the subtlety of the matter. He asked…
Not a fan of anti-abortion law, but prior to this what voice did the father have in whether to abort or not?
When others explained that prior to this, no one else was ever required for consultation on such matters, he then followed up asking
So a more accurate version of this pearl-clutchy headline would change “a man” to “the father”, yes?
I will grant that the article’s wording in the headline could be construed as slightly sensationalist. (I do not believe that Ian’s attempt to point this out was in the service of any views he might hold that put him greatly at odds with women’s rights supporters. I’ll let him speak for himself, but by all initial appearances, Ian is one who appreciates measured discussion and wanted to unpack an idea, even on a firey topic.) However, even if the headline was worded to be attention-grabbing, I thought that there was an important point to make here about whose place it is to have a say in these matters. I responded…
Most of us on this side of the debate do not make a distinction. Actually, going to write a quick blog post.
So here we are. 🙂
Allow me to open up with a rather unequivocal and direct statement summarizing my personal views on the matter, as far as the law is concerned:
I believe that in matters of reproductive health, as with all other matters pertaining to women’s health, the only party with whom ultimate authority should rest for all decisions is the woman herself. In consult with her doctor(s) preferably (to which I hope she has adequate, affordable access) and with informed input from other close associates and sources of factual medical advice… but, ultimately, it is my belief that anyone’s personal life decisions should be theirs and theirs alone under the law. Others with a vested stake or strong connection to her life may have a voice (in healthy interpersonal relationships, considering the feelings and thoughts and advice of others close to you is certainly not a bad thing) but that voice shouldn’t carry any legally-binding weight. I believe that each one of us — and this goes for people of any gender, not just women — is the ultimate and final authority over what happens to our bodies.
Let’s examine a quote that has circulated quite a bit in the coverage of this law…
And you know when you enter into a relationship you’re going to be that host and so, you know … take all precautions and don’t get pregnant. … After you’re irresponsible then don’t claim, “well, I can just go and do this with another body,” when you’re the host and you invited that in.
This statement comes from Oklahoma State Rep. Justin Humphrey (who few folk will be surprised to learn was a career corrections officer before this, served as head of the FoP, is a drug prohibition crusader, and wears a bolo tie and ten-gallon hat when conducting business at the State Capitol) and it’s as repugnant on its face as your initial gut reaction tells you it is. Women are not “hosts” and it’s infantilizing to finger-wag and scold them with language laden with terms like “irresponsible” etc etc. However, even if we were to afford SR Humphrey a measure of charity to which he is barely entitled here and sanitize his language to something more professional and less blundering, I would still claim that this quote exposes a strong double-standard tilted squarely against women…
You know when you enter into an intimate relationship that the possibility exists that you may become pregnant.. … Whether by not practicing safer sex or by failure of birth control, let’s say you get pregnant… I don’t feel you can then just claim, “I want to make my own reproductive choices now [without consulting anyone else, such as the biological father],” when you’re the one who knew this was a possibility at the onset.
Again, for the more low-IQ readers out there or those who are determined to twist the words of other people, let me state that the above is nowhere close to my own views on the matter. (See well above where I outlined those, and they haven’t changed in the past few paragraphs.) I am merely adding a more professional polish to the original turd that was Humphrey’s argument.
Let’s take that argument, however, and flip it around. SR Humphrey wants men to be consulted before any reproductive health care measures can be selected by pregnant women. He views the matter as not entirely under the women’s field of authority because “they should have known that this might happen” when they first entered the relationship (or whatever form the sexual encounter was).
Pray tell me, then, Mr. Representative, how you would feel about men who knock people up and then demand standing in the subsequent decision-making process being lectured as follows…
You knew when you chose to engage in sex that there was a possibility of one of your little swimmers finding an egg at the end of the day. … Whether or not you were trying to make a baby, it sometimes will happen… I don’t feel you can then just claim, “I want a child!” (or, conversely, “I don’t want to be a father!”) and expect the partner whom you impregnated to go along with that decision. You knew this was a possibility at the onset and still you chose to shoot between wind and water before you had known what the decisions of your partner might be should a pregnancy arise.
Ultimately, I think this argument makes far greater sense. At least to me. It is the man who is intruding into someone else’s life and space and field of existence, both in matters of intercourse as well as (more particularly) in matters of pregnancy. And while pregnancies can take couples by surprise, the mechanism by which fetuses develop and are born is not a mystery. Whether or not you were planning on a pregnancy, it’s no shock who is going to bare said pregnancy. With that bit of information already well-established before anyone orders their third bourbon or exchanges hotel room keys, it should come as no surprise (in my view) that any unforseen baby is going to be on the lady’s turf.
It is the fellow who must accept the fact that he chose to get involved in someone else’s body. Flipping Humphrey’s words around, I claim that no man can come around later and say, “Wait, wait, wait, this isn’t what I signed up for!” No, it’s exactly what you signed up for: to engage in some activities that would have uncertain outcomes for which you may or may not have to bear indeterminate future responsibility depending upon a set of decisions that are going to be made by someone wholly other than yourself. If ceding all this authority to a woman sounds too risky for you, then for fuck’s sake keep your meat log out of the honey jar.
I have had a lot of sex in my life. Much of it has been relatively safe sex. And some of it has not been. However, in all instances, I went in with eyes open (OK, sometimes slightly blearily open) to the following absolute truths…
- The person I was with knew I didn’t want to get them pregnant
- The person I was knew that she did not want to get pregnant
- Should something unforeseen occur, we had already discussed that we were had no intention of seeing a pregnancy come to term
- Ultimately, if we had to cross that bridge, despite having talked about it beforehand, the ultimate authority would rest with her
… that’s my personal definition of responsible sexual practices.
In my ideal world, no sexual decision is one-sided (unless you’re talking about sex with yourself, which is the safest of all.) In my ideal world, both (or “all” depending on circumstance) individuals directly involved would know each others’ intentions well in advance of any deeply intimate encounters and would not have resorted to any deception or ruse in an effort to advance the course of intimacy. In my ideal world, unforeseen pregnancies may be momentarily distressing but their outcomes shouldn’t come as a shock to the parties involved because they would have already been discussed and an understanding shared long before they arose. And, yes, in my ideal world, despite often having a voice in the process, men would have absolutely zero authority over reproductive health decisions.
That goes for the men in the bedroom and the men in the statehouse.