A 2006 Political Research Associates article by Eleanor J. Bader, “Male Victims of Abortion: New Theme of Right to Life Committee,” documents a gathering of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), during which over 500 anti-choice members met for several days to strategize. In addition to the typical arguments against abortion—pushing parental consent, chastising Planned Parenthood, and promoting anti-choice policies at the U.N.—some newer ones were on the docket. Most significantly, the idea that a woman should be required to have an ultrasound before she is allowed to have an abortion and an argument overemphasizing an emotionally charged stance: “male victims of abortion”.
The organization also touted its successes, including a then-recent outlawing of dilation and extraction procedures. Bader reflects on how less-radical posturing has helped the NRLC achieve such measures: “[t]hey’re content to lobby their representatives and work behind the scenes, rather than in front of clinic doors. Given their electoral successes and their Supreme Court majority, they see their star ascending and they couldn’t be happier.”
Ultrasounds a Legal Reality
‘Successes’ like this have continued and have been accelerating at an alarming rate over the past few years. The NRLC’s position on ultrasounds is now a legislative reality. In three states, a woman having an abortion must first submit to an ultrasound that her provider is then required to show and describe. In seven states, the woman must have the ultrasound, and the provider has to offer to show and describe it. Almost half of the 50 states involve ultrasounds in their abortion processes in some way or another.
In the instance of a first-trimester abortion, the semester during which 88 percent of all abortions are carried out, an ultrasound is medically unnecessary. Ultrasounds also add significant costs to the already expensive process—a typical ultrasound costs around $850.
Mandated ultrasounds dramatically and disproportionately affect poor women—the additional cost incurred may be enough on its own to prevent a woman from having an abortion. Not to mention that this is often paired with the fact that the most accessible clinic is hundreds of miles away round trip, a consequence of other TRAP laws.
The Guttmacher Institute points out that mandatory ultrasounds are little more than an attempt to emotionally manipulate women, and explains that “the requirements appear to be a veiled attempt to personify the fetus and dissuade a woman from obtaining an abortion.” If a woman hasn’t already been prevented from having an abortion due to the costs or difficulties surrounding ultrasounds, and has made it all the way to the doctor’s office, the emotional roadblock still stands in her way.
Many anti-choice groups promote ultrasounds for this very reason. LiveAction, Lila Rose’s brainchild, released an article in February titled “Ultrasound images change lives, save hearts.” The article, while attempting to espouse the virtues of ultrasounds and their ability to dissuade 78% of women from having a planned abortion, reveals how truly horrible these ultrasounds can be.
The anecdotes provided include a woman who was raped, but felt she had to have the child of her rapist once she saw it in a real-time ultrasound. Another tells the story of a woman who made “the long drive from another country for an abortion appointment,” walked past protesters into the clinic, and came out later crying, because the ultrasound she had seen made the nine week fetus too real for her to abort. Even if these women were ultimately happy with their decision (there is no indication that they are and LiveAction, of course, skews the stories towards an anti-choice stance), the stories paint a picture of women who had decided to abort, and decided not to because of the ultrasound.
“Male Victims of Abortion” Stance Comes from a Place of Privilege
The NRLC’s conniving utilization of the argument that men are victims of abortion holds particular weight because, as Bader observes of the men who spoke out about abortion’s affects, “[h]earing them speak is unsettling because it is impossible to tell someone that their feelings are illegitimate.”
Victims of physical and sexual abuse, women of color, low-income women, and women of certain religions are particularly endangered by this argument. In such situations, a woman may either desperately need to keep the prospective parent out of her life or may be in no position to decide their involvement. Arguing that the person not carrying the fetus should have a legal right to decide what happens to it puts these women at a higher risk than they already are by opening the door to yet another level of abuse.
A hypothetical example resulting from this would be a religious woman who is living with both her husband and her family. Her religion prohibits her from both abortion and questioning her husband’s stances, two practices that are enforced by her family’s presence in her life. The idea that the man gets to choose is already a reality for her, reinforcing this by law will essentially destroy the shred of autonomy she has left. This may force her to have a baby she does not want or is not ready for, or seek out another means of abortion (which is both highly unsafe and could land her in jail).
This serves to reinforce the idea that the Right’s target demographic are young to middle-aged heterosexuals of economic and social privilege. It presumes that the partners have a functional, non-abusive relationship, the means to pay for proper prenatal care and child support, are in good health, and can access adequate reproductive health services.
To come at the situation from a holistic and realistic standpoint would force the Right to admit that their policies have catered exclusively to people of privilege, essentially destroying a substantial amount of the arguments they pit against the cause. This “kick ‘em while they’re down” strategy shows us the flip-side of intersectionality: the Right utilizes this theory to understand how to use oppression, rather than to understand how to alleviate it.
While men’s pain should not be rendered illegitimate, it’s important to recognize that this emotional appeal is yet another vehicle the Right uses to mobilize people against women’s rights. The emotional pain a male partner may experience should never be discounted, but it’s not salient to a women’s bodily autonomy and right to make her own choices about her body.
While NRLC-aligned ideologies continue to gain ground, as they have since the release of Bader’s article in 2006, it will become ever more essential to point out the true breadth and reach of such Draconian rollbacks.
Even the personhood campaign has recently gained some ground in the reproductive health arena, so I would not be surprised if the GOP, taking advantage of the momentum they currently have, takes the “male victims of abortion” stance to the next level and attempts to put forth legislation requiring consent from both prospective parents, rather than just the one who is carrying the child.
Looking forward, we should keep an eye on this and strive to recognize and point out the ways in which the NRLC’s stances not only effect all women, but have the most impact on those who are already suffering.