The retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy had prompted speculation and fear among supporters of reproductive rights even before President Donald Trump nominated D.C. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace him. In the Supreme Court’s decision in Casey vs. Planned Parenthood, Kennedy joined with several colleagues to protect the “core holding” of Roe vs. Wade, and he had remained a supporter — if not exactly an ardent one — of a precedent-based right to abortion. If the Senate confirms Kavanaugh, many supporters of reproductive rights fear that a five-justice majority will then stand prepared either to overrule Roe outright or else to chip away until Roe is reduced to an empty husk.
Kavanaugh has not commented publicly on the scope of abortion rights, although he is well known to hold socially conservative views and has described himself as an originalist — a method of constitutional interpretation associated with the late Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas, both of whom believe that Roe was incorrectly decided and dissented in Casey. Legal commentators might reasonably infer that Kavanaugh would share those views.
Given that the Supreme Court will likely limit the right to reproductive choice, meaningful access to abortion would become contingent on the will of state legislatures.
Forceful advocacy for reproductive choice at both the national and state levels has seldom been more important. And it’s time for men to join the front lines of the fight.
Abortion is usually framed as a women’s issue. In some ways, this makes sense: Reproductive choice — and its absence — affects what happens within women’s bodies. And for the 1 in 4 women who have had an abortion, the issue is particularly personal. But it is important to remember that men also benefit greatly from safe and legal abortions. A partner’s abortion has enabled men to finish school, allowed men to pursue their chosen careers, saved men from the loss of a spouse because of medical complications, kept men from economic hardship and spared men the emotional burden of unwanted parenthood. Men should be deeply invested in reproductive freedom, too.
Yet in the face of the current threat to reproductive freedom, calls to action have been disproportionately directed toward women. Consider the strategy of sharing personal stories, which is designed to destigmatize abortion and to emphasize its importance. Following upon a Supreme Court amicus brief in which women lawyers recounted the importance of abortion to their professional and personal well-being, a recent New York Times opinion piece suggests that more women who have had abortions should speak up and tell their stories. While this nuanced essay makes clear that no one is obligated to tell her story, others — including many men — have called upon women to tell their stories more forcefully.
What we too seldom hear is that men should also tell their abortion stories. We need to hear from the man who was able to stay in college, the man who did not become a single parent to two daughters after his wife died during a complicated pregnancy, the man whose uninterrupted research while a graduate student yielded a lifesaving cancer treatment and the man whose family did not become homeless during a stretch of unemployment — all because their partners had access to safe and legal abortion. Mathematically speaking, millions of men have such stories. The 1 in 4 women who have had an abortion did not get pregnant on their own.
These stories are powerful. Yet we rarely hear these perspectives, and more rarely still do we hear calls for men to describe how abortion has affected them personally. This needs to change.
At a fundamental level, men can relate to other men’s stories, in much the same way as advocates hope women can relate to other women’s stories. This person could be my best friend. It could be my son. It could be me. Maybe it was. Reproductive-choice advocates often say that everyone knows and cares about a woman who has had an abortion. This is true. It’s equally true that everyone knows a man whose life is much better because abortion is safe and legal — or maybe they are such a man themselves.
Because men have also benefited from abortion, they should do more to share the responsibility for defending it. Women often face terrible repercussions when their abortions become public: They are attacked online, slut-shamed and in some instances face legal repercussions. None of this should happen, of course — but it does, and it’s time for men to shoulder more of that burden. Indeed, the burden might not be as heavy for men: When it comes to sex, research shows that women are more likely than men to be stigmatized for identical behavior, and men would therefore face less scorn for disclosing how a partner’s abortion benefited them. And if men came forward with personal narratives about how abortion has affected — and improved — their lives, perhaps abortion as a whole would become a less-stigmatized topic.
Urging men to share their abortion stories does not imply that men should get to decide whether women have abortions. Women should have the absolute right to determine what happens to their own bodies. But in practice, many couples decide how to handle an unplanned pregnancy together. Research by Arthur Shostak and his colleagues found that about half of women are accompanied to abortion waiting rooms by men, indicating that they are involved in the process of choosing and seeking abortion care. And when women have the opportunity to choose, men also benefit.
For decades, men have benefited from the availability of safe and legal abortion. And it’s time for men to start taking threats to reproductive freedom personally. To all of the men who know the importance of reproductive choice from firsthand experience: If you are ready, share your abortion stories with your families, your friends and your community. Call your representatives and insist that they only confirm justices who will respect the long-established precedents of Roe vs. Wade and Casey vs. Planned Parenthood. And, when the time comes, hold your representatives accountable at the ballot box for protecting reproductive freedom. Abortion is your issue, too.
Nancy Leong is a professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. She wrote this article for the Washington Post.