Guest columnist Rob Okun: Men’s voices urgently needed to defend reproductive rights

  • Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., speaks during the committee’s business meeting to consider the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, April 4, 2022. AP

Published: 5/8/2022 5:20:34 PM

“It’s on us to listen, to speak out, and to take action. Not because women are our mothers, sisters, wives or friends — but because women are people. And all people deserve to control their own bodies.”

— Sen. Cory Booker

Exacerbated by the news that this summer the Supreme Court is poised to overturn a half a century of precedent by declaring Roe unconstitutional, men must leave the sidelines in this national reproductive rights emergency. The stakes are too high to simply declare that abortion is a “women’s issue.”

For decades, men in increasing numbers have followed women’s lead in challenging gender-based violence and promoting gender equality, so why are we stuck when it comes to abortion? Men must understand that denying access to safe abortion is a form of gender-based violence. Controlling women’s reproductive choices is state-sponsored control over a woman’s body. If we speak out against all other forms of violence against women, we must speak out against this form of violence, too.

Nevertheless, for many men who believe in gender equality, myself included, there’s been little of a consistent, sustained, male prochoice effort. We heard the maxim, “women’s bodies; women’s choices” and vigorously nodded. Then, many of us backed off from actively working to protect Roe, believing we could always reengage if circumstances became dire — if Roe was being threatened, right? Well, what the hell are we waiting for?

From Texas’s 2021 abortion ban after six weeks (before many people know they’re even pregnant), to a similar law enacted in neighboring Oklahoma this spring, every woman’s autonomy is being threatened. Most Supreme Court observers were convinced that the court’s ultra-right majority would overturn Roe; the leaked draft of the opinion in Mississippi was not a surprise.

Still, men have to make our voices heard, unambiguously, that we stand with women — our partners and wives, sisters and daughters, cousins and aunts — in challenging the ruling. As an organized voting block, men have a key role to play in ousting anti-choice legislators and electing pro-choice candidates. Men need to step up and join the struggle.

A decade and a half ago, before the 2006 midterm elections, I was among volunteers who went door to door across South Dakota canvassing to overturn what was then the most restrictive abortion ban in the nation. For weeks, our pro-choice squad crisscrossed the state. I stood on residents’ doorsteps on leafy streets in small Dakota towns explaining why I’d come all the way from Massachusetts. “I have a son, 18, and three daughters all in their 20s,” I’d begin. “Imagine if even one parent in South Dakota had a daughter who’d been raped and became pregnant. Must that family follow a law that forbade the young woman from aborting the rapist’s child? One that compelled her to bear his baby?” Often enough my comments struck a nerve.

We won that battle (55 to 45%) and South Dakota’s law was overturned by the will of the people. Nevertheless, vigorous efforts to restrict a woman’s right to choose continue unabated to this day, not just across South Dakota, but in dozens of other states as well. Trigger laws are poised to go into effect the moment Roe is overturned, banning abortion outright in a large swath of the country.

“The idea that threats to women’s reproductive freedom are also an issue for men is too often, if mentioned at all, seen as an afterthought,” says antisexist educator, author and filmmaker Jackson Katz. “This has to change. Liberal and progressive men need to hear loud and clear that their support for women’s right to comprehensive health care services — which includes access to safe, legal abortion — needs to be an absolute first-order priority, because without it there is no gender equality. And without gender equality, there is no real democracy.”

So what can men do? Here’s some examples:

■ Volunteer at a clinic, including escorting patients inside.

■ For Mother’s Day, in lieu of a traditional gift, ask your family to make a donation to a local clinic, Planned Parenthood, NARAL, or all three.

■Urge your faith community’s leader to deliver a sermon supporting a women’s right to choose (or be the guest speaker yourself).

■ Write a letter to the editor stating your unequivocal support for women’s reproductive rights.

■ Invite a group of men over to talk about the threat women face and why men need to break their silence.

■ Urge researchers to accelerate work on developing male birth control methods.

■ If you have a son old enough, talk with him about respecting women’s autonomy.

■ Let your daughter know you unequivocally support her right to control her body.

■ Alert anti-choice legislators that you won’t just vote to unseat them, you’ll work to elect pr-ochoice candidates.

With the flames of intolerance growing like a western wildfire that’s scorching our sisters’ homes, men must join the bucket brigade to put out the fire. Now!

Rob Okun (rob@voicemalemagazine.org), syndicated by PeaceVoice, writes about politics and culture. He is editor-publisher of Voice Male magazine.

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