Opinion: Pro-choice men need to start actively supporting abortion rights now. Here's how
Author Michael Arceneaux discusses the restrictive Alabama abortion ban, explains why men have a responsibility to amplify the work of the organizers and activists fighting for reproductive justice, and shares how you can get started.
Before the Alabama Senate passed what is now America’s most restrictive abortion law should it go into effect, state Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison (D) conveyed the frustration of the many women nationwide debating reproductive rights with the most repugnant sect of humanity: the uninformed man.
Her Republican counterpart, state Sen. Clyde Chambliss, one of HB 314’s key backers, explained that the law—effectively a total ban on abortion—wouldn’t impact women until they “are known” to be pregnant. Washington Post reporter Meagan Flynn chronicled an exchange between the two state senators, and explained that Coleman-Madison sought clarification on what exactly Chambliss meant by that claim. Unsurprisingly, he offered a pitiful answer: “Well,” he said, “if you don’t know, then you’re not known to be pregnant.”
Coleman-Madison, described as resting “her chin in the palm of her hand, looking bored,” dismissed him appropriately. “I guess that’s a typical male answer,” she said. “You don’t know what you don’t know because you’ve never been pregnant. And herein is the problem: You can’t get pregnant. … You don’t know what it’s like to be pregnant.”
Coleman-Madison was only one of three women to have a role in deciding whether or not Alabama women deserve the right to control their bodies. It was 25 white men, all Republicans, who—despite not having any idea of what it’s like to be pregnant—overruled them.
These men have now set the stage for a court fight that may soon find its way to the Supreme Court. The law’s passage comes on the heels of Georgia passing a six-week abortion ban. In the past three months, Ohio and Mississippi have passed similar bills. (And yes, sometimes these men even get women to help them achieve their plan, as is the case with Alabama and the state’s female governor who, it is is assumed, will sign the legislation. However, these women are not working on behalf of other women, but are aligning with the patriarchy over their gender to preserve their own individual access to power.)
Even before Donald Trump managed to achieve what at the time felt unconscionable, but in hindsight proved inevitable, Republicans had long made their vision abundantly clear. Their ultimate goal is to maintain the traditional racial, gender, and cultural hierarchies of this country. A society in which white male patriarchy dominates and everyone else falls in line because, after all, this is their country. We just live in it as they see fit. And the tactics they’ve used to make their dreams realized have been just as transparent, as infamous Republican political consultant Karl Rove detailed for the Wall Street Journal in March 2010. In Rove’s op-ed, he explained that by strategically locking up as many state legislators as possible, the GOP can favorably draw congressional maps to not only tighten their grips on Congress, but to make it nearly impossible to challenge their attained power.
Months after Rove’s article was published, Republicans made historic gains in amassing state legislative seats, and those gains were not limited to 2010. By the end of President Obama’s second term, the GOP won more than 900 legislative seats, and with that power, they’ve passed restrictive voter suppression laws and enacted Draconian immigration laws. They have also stacked the federal courts and managed to tilt the power of the Supreme Court towards conservatives (thanks to the brutish, forceful shamelessness of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to get Brett Kavanaugh confirmed).
And speaking of the Supreme Court, if memory serves, didn’t Maine Senator Susan Collins (R) swear to us that Kavanaugh would uphold Roe v. Wade? Yet, these states are quickly passing a number of severely restrictive anti-abortion laws because they believe the Supreme Court will support them. In the same week that Alabama decided to become the most repressive state for women in the nation, the conservative justices on the Supreme Court offered a decision that confirms they find legal precedents meaningless.
We know these men in the Supreme Court don’t care that Roe v. Wade was passed to help stave off a public health crisis created by illegal abortion, because we know these men aren’t actually “pro-life.” To be pro-life would be to advance sexual education, access to contraception, affordable health care, free child care, and other measures that help make life worth living. These are men who want to control women. This has been their fight for decades, and they are inching gravely closer to their endgame.
This will not end with Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Ohio. Republicans are doing this one state at a time to eventually overturn Roe v. Wade. They did not target those state legislators for the hell of it.
We are in a crisis, but the chorus of criticism should not only come from women.
White men in power are responsible for this decline in reproductive rights, so more men need to be speaking up in support of women and women’s health. Pro-choice men must actively join this fight and support the movement’s leaders. And not simply because some of these restrictive abortion laws impact men, too, but because it is the right thing to do.
Men with platforms ought to use them not to condescend to and lecture the targeted, but to amplify the harmed communities’ messages and speak honestly to what’s already happening in this country. For other men, it’s time to profess solidarity by speaking out, by calling representatives, and by not voting for white Republicans who want to trample on the rights of everyone else.
And, really: donating money and effort to organizations dedicated to preserving reproductive rights for women. Start with The Yellowhammer Fund—they help provide abortions in the state of Alabama.
And men with platforms, when you do speak up, please invite yourself to a clue. I remember last year when CNN media critic Brian Stelter criticized growing comparisons of the state of our union to that of the oppressive one depicted in The Handmaid’s Tale. Responding to checkpoints located in Arizona more than 60 miles from the Mexico border, Stelter tweeted “i remember stopping at one of the checkpoints in CA last year. i didn’t find it to be a problem. but i respect others POV.”
I guess that’s a typical white male answer. Brian Stelter may be pleasant in person, but he is also a white man being paid handsomely to know things. It never dawned on him that, as a white man, perhaps he would have no issue with checkpoints because he would never be the target of one. If men, and white men especially, aren’t grasping their privileged reality, then they can’t see these injustices as the immediate dangers they are—whether we’re talking immigration policies or abortion bans (which are not separate, but interconnected human rights issues).
Consider how these abortion bans would work in practice. Outlawing abortion means women who commit them become felons. Felons are not allowed to vote in much of the country. Women are also, curiously, a growing part of the electorate. Some women happen to be Black, too, so they are already fully aware of the perils of disenfranchisement, and sadly, so are many other marginalized women.
Authoritarian regimes enact change slowly and methodically. The repression follows and the brutality arrives not long after. That’s why it would behoove men to join this fight.
Now is not the time to be a stupid, stubborn, unhelpful man. Look at where that’s gotten women; look at where that’s gotten many of us. For once, try to be useful.
Donate to Planned Parenthood Action Fund and ACLU to help their efforts to stop the abortion bans nationwide; The Yellowhammer Fund to support abortion access in Alabama; Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund to support abortion access in Mississippi; Women Have Options to support abortion access in Ohio; and the Women In Need Fund to support abortion access in Georgia.
Michael Arceneaux is the New York Times bestselling author of I Can’t Date Jesus from Atria Books/Simon & Schuster. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Essence, The Guardian, Mic, and more. Follow him on Twitter.