Echidne has made a couple of comments over the past couple of months about men discussing abortion. After the presidential debate on October 15, she pointed out that “It is always extremely distasteful to watch two men discuss what should be done about abortion. Always, never mind what they say.” Then, on November 17, she wrote in response to Scott Lemieux at Tapped that she had an itch, “caused by reading guys discuss abortion policies with great confidence (including what to offer pregnant women so that they’d give birth rather than have abortions).” She claims that this is because “men don’t have to worry about someone forcing pregnancy and/or childbirth on them,” and she “cannot help focusing on that fact whenever I have to watch an all-male debate on the topic.” While I’m tempted to say in response that it is equally distasteful for white women to write about black transgender people because they never have to worry about being beaten by police and then shot to death for being non-normative, that would be attacking a straw woman.
What I think Echidne was really getting at was this: the abortion debate really has nothing to do with when life begins, whether zygotes are “persons” or “people,” whether disembodied arms should be considered organisms, the differences between hair cells and sperm cells, whether rights attach to biological humans or psychological persons, when an embryo becomes a fetus, or why we excise teratomas with no questions asked. The debate really has nothing to do with any of that, and debating those kinds of issues means debating philosophical problems that may be interesting, but are actually totally separate from the issue that’s at the heart of the debate. The debate is about the woman. It’s about whether women have the right to choose a standpoint on these philosophical issues, whether women are persons, whether human rights attach to women. All of these kinds of discussions tend to totally gloss over the woman that is ultimately the location of all these philosophical issues; these issues are, after all, women’s business. In these kinds of debate, men make it their business without even paying lip service to the women whose business it is.
My knee-jerk defensive response to Echidne was based on my interpretation of her point as being “men have no place discussing abortion, so they should just shut up.” Obviously men should be discussing abortion, because men play a huge role in the societal causes and effects of the very existence of the debate. But to be fair, men shouldn’t discuss such far-reaching philosophical issues as I described above under the guise of analyzing the issue of women’s choice, because that’s not what they’re dicussing. Echidne’s point, I imagine, was a response to the overwhelmingly ubiquitous tendency to posit these issues as being the key to coming to a conclusion about abortion, and that’s a tendency that I would find equally frustrating if I was someone who was actually faced with even the potentiality of making this choice sometime in the future. A woman faced with this choice probably cares less about when a zygote starts being a fetus than she does about why the hell her body isn’t hers and nobody else’s.
(Hat tip to Dr. Science.)