I’ve had a few conversations recently, about abortion, with men. Their objection to abortion was based (or part based) on the rights of the father. It’s a point of view I struggle to counter. Not because I see any merit in it, rather I see so little merit in it I struggle to explain my thoughts. Sometimes a value is so fundamental that one rarely has to examine and elucidate it.
I hold that a man has no rights over a woman’s body, regardless of what may or may not be going on inside that woman’s body or any connection he may have to that woman or what is going on inside her body. This is not a feminist conclusion, this is being a liberal. I believe, with every fibre of my being, that no one has a right to control or a right of access to anyone else’s body, ever. While the physical autonomy of Irish citizens is routinely violated, I tend to focus on the criminalisation of abortion as it is, by a long distance, the most egregious example.
But that all sounds a bit wordy and ideological.
I’m not a father. I’ve never been a father. And am intent on never being a father. I’ve never felt that connection to a life I have helped create and/or have chosen to call my child. I can, at best, imagine it based on the experiences of friends who are fathers or what is depicted in literature and television. My conclusion is that the connection is real, it is profound and it deserves respect. It is at once, base evolution and beautiful.
The question then is how does one give due cognisance to this true emotion in the creation of a right for the father that can be vindicated, but one that also vindicates the right of the pregnant woman to her physical autonomy?
I used the term ‘father’ deliberately. I could have used any number of terms, from ‘sperm donor’ to ‘potential father’ but am opting to focus on the cohort of men who are not MRA types or who only use the status of father to disempower women. What does one say to those men, who on learning that a woman is carrying their child, deems fatherhood to have begun at the point of revelation? What does one say to those men when the pregnant woman decides she does not want to continue with that pregnancy?
My head knows and says, there is nothing that need be said. Her body, her choice. This is not mere sloganeering, it is the most basic tenet of the pro-choice movement. All our efforts are based on that simple phrase, her body, her choice. But how does one translate this assertion, this assertion of autonomy into a message that can assuage the hurt and fear of the fathers who feel that connection to their child? Is it even a worthwhile endeavour?
In asking how we convey this message of autonomy, I am aware that I am wondering how a woman can ask ‘more nicely’ to not be a slavish incubator? My skin is crawling. I don’t even know if the question is necessary. Perhaps we have the numbers already, perhaps the few men I have spoken to represent a statistically insignificant cohort who need not be given our attention during the campaign to come. I do know the majority of men of my acquaintance get the difference between potential fatherhood and ownership.
And yet, I still long for a form of words to convey my understanding while also answering the question I posed about rights. How, with empathy, do I say; you have absolutely no rights concerning a woman’s body, regardless of what’s going on inside her body, regardless of your connection to her and your connection to what going on inside her body. None, absolutely none and you and anyone else should never have the power to dictate what another person does with their body. And unless you are prepared to contemplate strapping a pregnant woman to her bed for the duration of her pregnancy there is no practicable way of giving you any say on what happens inside her body beyond what she is prepared to grant you, and even then, she can grant you no more than to listen to your opinion. But I understand her decision may cause you pain.
I’m not sure it’s an argument that will way sway anyone, but it’s all I have. It just that it happens to be true.