When Men Control The Pregnancy


We’ve written before about whether men should get a say in their partners’ abortions. Complicating the question even further is the fact that some men take control of women’s reproduction by force. Which isn’t messed up at all.

Often the debate around men’s role in reproductive decisions assumes that men are currently powerless where these decisions are concerned. The dominant narrative is that of men like Greg Bruell (profiled in Elle, via Broadsheet), whose girlfriend told him she’d get an abortion if she conceived, but then proceeded to have a child and sue him for child support. He’s now helping to raise his kid, but his cause has been taken up by the National Center for Men, whose director argues that “reproductive choice isn’t a fundamental right if it’s only limited to people who have internal reproductive systems.” This is the refrain we generally hear: one of men being shut out of choice.

But sometimes it’s men who shut women out. In her thorough article for The Nation on reproductive coercion (which we’ve also discussed), Lynn Harris writes of “the striking frequency with which it is in fact young men who try to force their partners to get pregnant. Their goal: not to settle down as family men but rather to exert what is perhaps the most intimate, and lasting, form of control.” She cites one study finding that 15% of sexually active young women who visited reproductive health clinics had suffered birth control sabotage by a partner, and another in which 26% of a sample of teens in abusive, sexually active relationships said their partners were “actively trying to get them pregnant.”

Perhaps the most striking part of Harris’s piece is the speculation that reproductive coercion may play a role in “pregnancy ambivalence.” A surprising percentage of women (23%, according to one study) report that they’re neither trying to get pregnant nor trying to avoid it — and while many of these women may simply be at a point in their lives where a baby would be great if it happened, others may actually feel the decision is out their hands. Harris quotes Dr. Elizabeth Miller, author of a study on reproductive coercion: “We need further research to find out if part of what we’ve been addressing as ‘ambivalence’ is in fact male-partner influence on women’s reproductive health and autonomy.”

Cases like Bruell’s are likely to continue drawing media attention, and we’re probably going to keep arguing about them for a long time to come. But these arguments shouldn’t assume that it’s always women excluding men from reproductive decisions — sometimes, it’s the other way around. So rather than focus on ways to give men more say over whether a woman has an abortion, perhaps we should be counseling both sexes, at a young age, on how to talk about pregnancy in a healthy and non-abusive way. Miller tells Harris, “Ideally, we’d discuss healthy relationships as a foundation for sex ed before we discuss mechanics” — and a healthy relationship means both partners agree on birth control and how to respond to a potential conception. Such discussions wouldn’t prevent all reproductive conflicts, but they might bring a little more equality to the inherently unequal process of having a child.

A Man’s Right To Choose An Abortion [Broadsheet]
When Teen Pregnancy Is No Accident [The Nation]
The Parent Trap: Paternal Rights And Abortion [Elle]

Earlier: Crazy, Condom-Puncturing Control Freaks Are Often Men
25% Of Women Don’t Care Whether They Get Pregnant
Blogger: How Abortion Rights Make Bad Boyfriends

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