Bodies and Choice

This morning I was reminded of a question that I’ve seen asked many times before during my adventures in online feminism. It’s usually trotted out by MRA groups, but this time, I saw it asked by The Telegraph, in one of the more horrific articles I’ve read from a broadsheet in quite a while.

The question: Why don’t men get a say in abortion?

The answer is obvious. Men do get a say in abortion – if they’re the ones who are pregnant.

I’m not being facetious. There are plenty of trans men out there who have not had hysterectomies, and are therefore potentially capable of becoming pregnant. Those men have just as much right as a cis woman, or a non-binary person with a uterus, to have an abortion or continue a pregnancy as they wish.

But if you’re not the one who’s pregnant? Sorry, no. You don’t get a say over what someone else does with their body.

“But that’s sexist against men!” is often the response.

Again, no. The right to bodily autonomy has nothing to do with gender. A cis man cannot require his cis girlfriend to get an abortion, or force her to stay pregnant when she doesn’t want to. But neither can a cis woman (or trans woman, or non-binary person) whose cis girlfriend or trans boyfriend or non-binary partner is pregnant. If I happened to be dating a trans man who got pregnant, I would have exactly the same rights regarding my boyfriend’s pregnancy as the cis man in the first scenario – none.

“Ah,” the MRAs would say slyly, “but that’s a different situation. You could just leave him, and you wouldn’t be required to pay child support, because you weren’t the one who got him pregnant.”

Well, fair enough, that’s true. As a cis woman, I can’t get anyone pregnant, and the only children I would be legally bound to support would be the ones that I pushed out of my own body.

But, again, the issue here is not gender. It’s bodily autonomy. A cis man does not have the power to tell his pregnant partner what to do with their body. He does, however, have the power to decide what to do with his own body.

To put it bluntly – if you don’t want anyone to continue a pregnancy that started with your sperm, because of the legal responsibilities you would have or simply because you don’t want to be a father, then don’t get that person pregnant.

A cis man has the right to insist on birth control, and refuse sex if that requirement isn’t met. He can insist on only engaging in sex that can’t result in pregnancy (and there are many, many ways to do that). If he’s afraid of his partner “stealing his sperm” from used condoms after sex (yes, this is a fear that crops bizarrely often on MRA discussion boards), then he can make sure he doesn’t let the condoms out of his sight until he can dispose of them properly – or he could just refuse to have sex with someone he didn’t trust. He can even freeze some samples and have a vasectomy – that way, no-one can use his sperm to get pregnant without his written permission. He can do whatever he wants with regards to his own body. But where his body stops, so do his rights.

Funnily enough, you never seem to hear the MRAs talking about that. It’s almost as if they want to have sex with anyone they want, make birth control their partner’s responsibility, and still have the right to decide whether their partner aborts or continues a pregnancy.

Well, sorry, boys. That would give you more rights than someone with a uterus, rather than equal rights. And that’s not on.

Bodily autonomy is one of the most fundamental human rights, if not the fundamental human right. It transcends all other issues around pregnancy and abortion, whether those issues are personhood of the foetus or the rights of the person who provided the sperm.

Even if another person continuing or ending a pregnancy would literally ruin your life, they still have the right to do whatever they wish with their own body. Just as you do with yours.

Further reading:

A Defense of Abortion

Misandry Mermaid: There is a concept called bodily autonomy

(Although these links deal more with the personhood debate, they’re still relevant to the question of bodily autonomy, whatever the situation).


For more bolshy opinions, follow Alice on Twitter. She also writes stories about magic, dragons, predatory horses and monsters from your nightmares, which are available at Amazon and Smashwords. Story updates can be found on Facebook.


About Alice Nuttall

Alice Nuttall is a caffeine-guzzling knitter who divides her time between Oxford and the various worlds in her head. She is the author of a YA fantasy novel, Spider Circus, and three webcomics, Footloose, Cherry, and Black Market Magic, as well as several short stories.
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