It’s Still A Man’s World: The Male-Dominated Abortion Discussion and Why It’s Weird

I miss the days when men were afraid of childbirth; when they would take to the road in anxious desperation, trying to hide the grotesquely bloody scene behind them in a cloud of kicked-up dust. I almost miss the days when a woman on her period was considered unclean, because at least then she would be left alone while she coped with her female trials. It seems that nowadays men just can’t get their noses out of our business.

When you weigh the value of each gender’s contributions and sacrifices regarding conception and birth, and everything in-between, the scales appear to be quite lopsided.

On the male side, we have the one sperm that activates the dormant female egg. This sperm is a whopping 25 micrometres. Consisting of a head, mid-piece, and tail, its sole purpose is to reach the egg – a process in which the man who releases the little tyrant into the complex world of a woman’s reproductive organs, isn’t involved in. As soon as the deed is done his part in the miracle of life is complete.

Now let’s hear the female side of the story. The egg is a little bigger than the sperm; 85,000 times bigger to be exact, but we’ll let it slide because the weight doesn’t really bog us down that much. At the beginning that is. Once that lucky sperm reaches its goal, the whole thing becomes a much heavier issue.

At eight weeks, the average fetus length is 0.63 inches and average weight, 0.04 ounces. Over the next 5 months, the average fetus grows to about 20 inches and 8 pounds creating a large protrusion in the female’s abdominal area, sometimes referred to as a “baby bump” or more precisely, an “oh my god girl look at that baby bump! So big! So cute!”

In total, a pregnant woman can gain between 25 and 35 pounds, which includes 7 pounds of extra nutrients, 4 pounds of blood, and a 1.5-pound placenta, among various other enlargements. So I think its safe to say that in the process of creating offspring (or bringing a child into the world, however you like to look at it), the woman carries most of the weight. Actually, all of it. Including the lovely little single cell male contribution that got the ball rolling in the first place.

A woman has to adjust many aspects of her lifestyle in accordance with this altered body shape. Some changes are easier and more enjoyable such as a complete wardrobe re-configuration, more comfortable shoes, and the servitude of your partner – if you’re lucky enough to still have them around; I’m not going to exclude the more than 1,132,290 single mothers in Canada, according to Statistics Canada.

Then there are the more difficult modifications. With hormones raging, and a life-changing event looming, mental changes are unavoidable. One in five pregnant women suffer from depression and anxiety, the American Pregnancy Association explains. Persistent sadness, thoughts of suicide, sleepless nights, unusual eating habits – these are only a hint of the mental suffering that pregnancy can impose on a woman. Furthermore, this depression, if left untreated or even simply unacknowledged, could harm the child as well, as it can lead to poor prenatal and postpartum care. In the worst cases, a mother could become completely removed from her child, should her depression become so deeply ingrained. This only further emphasizes the fact that before a woman embarks on the journey towards birthing a child, she must be fully packed and prepared for the bumps and bruises along the way.

Birth control presents women with the chance of giving themselves the time they need before dedicating their life to raising a child. But as we are constantly warned, birth control is inherently untrustworthy. The two most popular forms of birth control, the pill and the male condom, have a failure rate of eight percent and 15 percent respectively. If pro-life supporters are seriously concerned about abortion, then they should be concentrating on birth control. They can’t possibly think that teenagers nation-wide will magically become abstinent overnight. But when birth control fails, isn’t even available in the first place, or isn’t allowed, and there are no other options, abortion gives unintentionally-pregnant women a way out. It is a final chance to prevent putting their physical and mental health at risk when they are not prepared.

The Liz Library, a collection of scholarly information, lists normal, frequent, or likely temporary side effects of pregnancy. I will list about half of them: “exhaustion, altered appetite and senses of taste and smell, nausea and vomiting, heartburn and indigestion, constipation, dizziness and light-headedness, hemorrhoids, abdominal cramps, yeast infections, bloody nose, skin discoloration, mild to severe backache and strain, increased headaches, difficulty sleeping, increased urination and incontinence, bleeding gums, pica, breast pain and discharge, swelling of joints, leg cramps, joint pain, higher blood pressure, hair loss, tendency to anemia, extreme pain on delivery, hormonal mood changes, including normal postpartum depression.”

The Gutmacher Institute reveals there are 292,000 pregnancy-related deaths a year – 800 a day, with 99 percent of them occurring in developing countries where abortions can’t save women stuck in unhealthy pregnancies. About half of all abortions are unsafe, and 98 percent of that half take place again in developing countries where abortion is illegal and abortion clinics are not available.

But the sacrifices are not all physical. Although in Canada pregnant women have a right to be free of discrimination in the workplace, many women are unable to work during the later stages of their pregnancy either because of the nature of the labour required or their own health reasons.

Once a child is born, it is almost impossible to continue working while the baby is dependent on breastmilk and constant supervision, and while the mother is recovering from reversing what she had been given nine months to adapt to. Until the day comes when men learn to breastfeed (the biological ability is there and can be “activated” with the right psychological stimuli!), women’s bodies will continue to be a life force for newborns.

So it is with all of this in mind that I confess to sanity-shredding confusion as to why men are taking the front lines in this battle to turn back time. In a motion recently presented to the Canadian government by Kitchener Centre MP Stephen Woodworth, the 91 parliamentarians who voted for it included 15 percent of all female MPs and 36 percent of all male MPs.

I mean, these guys just look so ridiculous to me. I bet they wouldn’t be able to say the words “uterus” or “vagina” in front of the rest of the House of Commons without hesitating or blushing, so what makes them think they can control those things?

Men can join the party once we’re talking about children’s rights because that’s when it becomes their issue too. Men do not suffer, physically nor mentally, as women do in the process of creating and birthing a child. Therefore it is entirely a women’s choice whether she is ready and willing to put herself through the process. If a man really wants a child, but his wife does not want to give birth, he’s going to have to find another way. Maybe he should adopt and give his love to a child who runs the risk of living a life without any parents at all.

I understand how a father-to-be would still need a sense of involvement and that the father doesn’t deserve to be completely forgotten in this journey but in the case of both parents, a true relationship with their child cannot be created simply through the transferal of nutrition and a growing belly. Nor can it be created based on the sensation of a kicking foot under your hand or seeing a shape on a screen. If that were the case we’d be declaring love for cartoon characters on our TVs or the mosquitoes that so gently kiss our skin. A true, thorough relationship is more than physical touch, or imagination, or images of the future. The parent-child relationship starts at birth, when they first lay eyes upon each other; when their voices, one soothing, one screaming, mingle in the new air. This is when memories begin. And how do we measure life but with memories – by remembering the past?

When Trudeau so famously declared that “the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation,” I think it’s safe to say he was also referring to the nation’s reproductive organs.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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