Men don’t have abortions. That’s no reason not to fight for women’s rights
Kenan Malik/ The Guardian
Traditionally feminist arenas of campaigning for social equality are everyone’s concern.
The decision by Alabama effectively to ban abortion has refocused attention in America on the issue of reproductive rights. The Alabama law is the most dramatic move in a long-running campaign by Republican states to curtail abortion rights and perhaps even overthrow Roe v Wade, the 1973 supreme court decision that legalised abortion in the US.Inevitably, the abortion debate has come to be seen through the lens of the gender divide. It’s women who get pregnant, women who need abortions, and women who suffer when abortion rights are restricted.
Most of those who legislate against abortion are men. In Alabama it was 25 men who voted for the bill in the Senate. Missouri and Georgia also recently passed restrictive laws on abortion. In Missouri, 21 out of 24 senators who voted for the law were men; in Georgia, it was 33 out of 34 senators.The gender divide on abortion is not, however, as first it may appear. It’s mainly men who legislate against abortion because men are disproportionately represented in legislatures, especially in conservative states. Just four out of 35 senators in Alabama are women; of all members of the state legislature, more than 84% are men.
Would it have made a difference had there been equal numbers of men and women in the legislatures, or even if all had been women? Unlikely. Polls have consistently shown that there is almost no gender gap in attitudes towards abortion. Men and women are equally in favour.
It’s politics, not gender, that creates the abortion divide. According to the Pew Research Center, almost six in 10 Republicans believe that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases while three-quarters of Democrats think it should be legal. In legislatures, too, political affiliation, not gender, is key. In Alabama, every Republican, man and woman, supported the abortion ban. No Democrat, of either gender, did.
Abortion is a women’s issue. Men don’t have abortions. But it’s not simply an issue for women. It’s an issue for all of us, men and women, who value women’s rights and a more equal society.