Jessica Valenti

Pro-Choice Men: Here’s What You Need to Know

Men on the left can’t afford to be as uninformed about abortion as men on the right are. Time to study up.

Photo: Pete Buttigieg speaking during a Fox News town hall on May 18, 2019 in Claremont, New Hampshire. Sarah Rice/Stringer/Getty

By now, it’s been well-established that the Republican men legislating away women’s bodily autonomy have little-to-no idea how those bodies actually work. They think women’s vaginal secretions can act as a protective spermicide when we are raped; they believe gynecological exams can be remotely conducted by having a woman swallow a camera. These men are woefully, embarrassingly stupid.

Given all that’s at stake — Roe v. Wade and women’s freedom, to start — men on the left cannot afford to be as uninformed. Pro-choice men need to speak up about the issue of abortion, and they need to know what they’re talking about when they do.

Since the state-level abortions bans began passing in earnest, I’ve seen call after call for men to do something: speak up, share their own stories about abortion, make sure women feel like we’re not in this fight alone.

But it’s not enough that men simply say something, not enough that they voice support for the right to an abortion. They need to know what this battle is actually about, and — especially for male politicians — they need to be prepared for the traps the opposition will undoubtedly try to set for them.

When Meet the PressChuck Todd asked Sen. Bernie Sanders what he thought about the spate of anti-abortion laws like the one in Alabama, Sanders gave a solid answer about women being able to control their own bodies, and medical decisions being between a woman and her doctor. When Todd followed up, asking Sanders how he felt about sex-selective abortions, the presidential hopeful was tripped up.

“I don’t know how, at this particular point, I would deal with it, but that is an issue that we really have got to deal with,” Sanders said.

A nuanced, informed answer can make all the difference.

Questions like these are why men need to be able to support abortion rights beyond basic talking points. If Sanders were better informed, he could have said that Republicans’ policy records prove they aren’t concerned about gender discrimination, and this kind of legislation is about banning abortion more broadly. Or he could have mentioned how myths about sex-selective abortion are often based in racist assumptions about Asian-American communities, or brought up that there is no law against sperm-sorting or IVF implantation of male embryos — this is just about abortion.

A nuanced, informed answer can make all the difference.

Take a look, for example, at Pete Buttigieg. When the South Bend Mayor was asked at the Fox News town hall about third trimester abortions — procedures that are almost never done, and are almost always to save the life of a woman or because of severe fetal abnormality — he refused to take the bait.

“These hypotheticals are set up to provoke a strong emotional reaction,” he said. When pushed, Buttigieg went on:

“We’re talking about women who have perhaps chosen the name, women who have purchased the crib, families that then get the most devastating medical news of their lifetime, something about the health or the life of the mother that forces them to make an impossible, unthinkable choice. That decision is not going to be made any better, medically or morally, because the government is dictating how that decision should be made.”

It was a humanizing, informed, and empathetic response — one that every pro-choice man should be able to give when taken to task by bad faith questioners.

Women, too, need to make sure we’re enabling men to speak about abortion with the same level of passion and expertise that we do, without preemptively shutting them down.

When the Late Show with Stephen Colbert tweeted out a video of the male hosts of Pod Save America “explain[ing] what needs to be done to protect Roe v. Wade,” for example, the response from pro-choice women was tense: To whom do these three white men think they are explaining anything?

I understand the knee-jerk reaction. Women are so accustomed to seeing men speak on our behalf (often incorrectly) that it can be irritating to feel as though we’re not being consulted on issues that intimately impact our lives. But if we’re going to ask men to speak up about abortion, we can’t make them afraid that doing so will attract our ire.

We need men to speak up about the importance of access to abortion, and not just because it’s the fair, right thing to do. Frankly, it gives us our best shot at winning. Men make up the majority of lawmakers and people with the most financial and political power in this country. We also know — as depressing as it is — that men are generally taken more seriously than women are.

Men, women are living in a terrifying moment. You are in a position to use your privilege and power to help. So, please, for the sake of women’s future, do your best to not just be passionate, but also knowledgeable, about protecting abortion rights.

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.

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