Men and Abortion Decisions

Decisions about whether to go forward with a pregnancy are often thought to be the domain solely of women. Much as motherhood should not be imposed on a woman, however, fatherhood should not be imposed on a man.

The male sexual partner often has no voice in the decision about whether to go forward with a pregnancy, and the standard view in bioethics is that he ought not to have. The consensus is that the decision to instead have an abortion is and should be exclusively the pregnant woman’s. By and large, the pro-choice and pro-life sides are united in this view even though they are divided about the morality of abortion. After all, the developing fetus is in the woman’s body; she bears the physical and lifestyle changes involved in being pregnant and the health risks associated with the pregnancy and with either childbirth or abortion. Consequently, so the consensus goes, the decision about having an abortion is her decision, and it is a private decision. Preservation of her privacy can legitimately be used to prevent her partner from knowing about the pregnancy or the decisions being made about it.

As if having a baby were the end of the matter. If it were, I would agree that the choice is the pregnant woman’s. But pregnancy—inconvenient, uncomfortable, stigmatizing, and even slightly dangerous though it be—is a very small part of what’s involved in having a child. We must get over the idea that abortion decisions are simply about whether to have a baby. If the burden of an unplanned pregnancy or even of an unavoidable childbirth (because an abortion is unavailable) is only a small part of the burden of being a parent, then it is no longer clear why the decision about having the child should be hers alone.