The letter to the editor shown below has been making the rounds; if anything can be described as “viral” on the Internet (and I dislike that word), it’s this. Of course it’s a favorite of All Regressive leftists and of my bête noir, the Huffington Post, which celebrated it with this short piece (click on screenshot to go to piece):
And here are the three glorious sentences:
I didn’t read the two anti-abortion letters that Ms. Seltz responded to, but have little doubt they were pretty right-wing and invidious. But I’m not convinced that telling men to “shut up about abortion,” without specifying what they should shut up about, is useful.
It’s incumbent on me, to avoid undeserved opprobrium, to say that I’m in favor of abortion—in fact more so that most “pro-choice” people. I not only think that abortions of all fetuses should be legal right up to birth, but, in cases where a newborn is severely deformed or diseased, and whose quality of life would be horrible, I’m even in favor of restricted euthanasia. In such case I think Peter Singer is right.
Further, although I’m not a woman, I think I can see where the sentiments in Seltz’s letter come from. Many women are simply exasperated by how men deal with the issue of abortion. Rather than discussing it, they try to control women’s actions, make laws that restrict what the Supreme Court has declared a legal act, harass women outside abortion clinics, kill doctors who perform abortions, and sometimes just plain lie in an attempt to restrict abortions (for example, spreading the myth that most women who have had abortions regret it). All of us who were heartened by the Roe v. Wade decision are dismayed about the repeated attempts of state governments to circumvent it.
But these actions, while largely promulgated by men—since men predominate in legislatures and courts—are not limited to men. If men should STFU, what about the many women who are “pro-life”? Do they have a right to speak simply because they have a uterus? What if they don’t plan to have children?
I also think that the argument for abortion has to be made not on grounds of “rights,” which are always conversation-stoppers, but on grounds of rationality and philosophy, cognizant of the problem that, at bottom, all ethics is grounded on subjective preferences. But I am convinced by the rational arguments, particularly those in Judith Jarvis Thompsons’ nice essay, “A defense of abortion,” which everyone should read.
That said, I’m unconvinced that man have to entirely shut up about abortion, and for several reasons:
- There are both men and women who sincerely see abortion, particularly of later-term fetuses, as murder—largely on religious grounds. (Would we even worry about abortion if there were no religion?) I am not with these people, but if you really think that, then why can’t you make that argument, even if you’ll be rebutted? I also believe that saying a woman has a “right” to an abortion since it’s her body is not a wholly convincing response. Yes, women give birth, but if abortion is seen as murder, must men—and all anti-abortion women—remain silent? If the grounds for opposition are the same for men and “pro-life” women, why do only the former get to have an opinion?
- There are men like me who are in favor of abortion. Wouldn’t it be better if we spoke up and supported the legality of unrestricted abortion rather than just STFU? We are, as they say, “allies.”
- Until almost everyone agrees on issue of a woman’s right to choose—and that’s a long way off—abortion cannot be seen as a “right,” which of course are things that everyone agrees should be extended to societies and groups. And until it is seen that way—until people agree that abortion is purely an issue between a woman and her doctor—it will remain a societal issue. In such cases, do we want to suppress discussion by half of the electorate? If you argue that, then you might argue (though the analogy isn’t perfect) that straight people shouldn’t vote or discuss gay marriage, that white people shouldn’t discuss civil rights or affirmative action, and so on. I doubt that many people will agree on that.
Viewed this way, Seltz’s letter is a kneejerk reaction that should not be celebrated as something “glorious.”
At any rate, these are random thoughts, and readers should weigh in below about the “men should STFU” issue.