The Australian Federal Government has reversed its stance on allocation of foreign-aid dollars, in that funding can now be directed towards family-planning services, including education, contraception, and in cases where it is required, abortion. A key factor in this decision was the protection of vulnerable women, who may be forced to resort to dangerous, unhygienic and life-threatening backyard abortions. And, worse yet, attempts to self-abort using such refined tools as baling wire, cooking implements, or poisonous abortifacients.
Cue the flood of letters to the Sydney Morning Herald. Most were supportive of the leglislation change, but then we have the predictable response from one Kevin Hogan, who opined that it was: "a betrayal of all women... (the government is) forcing these poor people into Western-funded abortion clinics rather than addressing the real issues."
My immediate reaction to this statement was one of annoyance at a man who considered himself a commentator on the needs of women. Ignoring the fact that nobody is forcing abortions on these women (there has been a long-standing need and desire for family planning services in the regions in question), and that the "real issues" are overpopulation, poverty, lack of effective contraception and lack of female autonomy over reproduction, I wondered how appropriate it is for a man to weigh into this debate at all.
A close male friend of mine consistently refuses to participate in these arguments. He once told me that he didn't think men should. "It's not up to us," he said. "No man will ever have to have an abortion, so they shouldn't be making the laws for women who will. It's up to women to decide." Unknowingly, he echoed the words of a Planned Parenthood advertisement, which reads that "Seventy-seven percent of anti-abortion leaders are male. One hundred percent of them will never be pregnant."
It's a fraught issue. Yes, men won't have to undergo it personally, but as abortion is a public health matter, it can be argued that men shouldn't be excluded from the public debate where standards are set. And, there's no indication that women are more likely than men to bring reasoned debate to the table when it comes to abortion - some of the most vociferous emotional blackmail thrown around actually comes from women, vis a vis Nancy Reagan's public statement that "if you have an abortion, you are committing murder". However, there is something inherently and undeniably distasteful about men attempting to morally dictate to women who are walking in shoes that the men will never wear.
I have to admit, however, that there's an element here of hypocrisy. I am only too happy to hear male politicians and commentators expouse their pro-choice views. It's only when they take the anti-abortion stance that I get angry at men weighing into a domain that does not concern them. Perhaps it comes down to the element of judgment present. Men who support legal abortion are not condemning women for their reproductive choices, whereas the so-called "pro-life" lobby are doing just that.
To what extent should men have a say in abortion law?
Is it fair for men to condemn women who undergo abortions?