Men Should Be Able to Express Opinions and Feelings about Abortion

I’m a feminist, a former Evangelical who writes fiercely about how Christianity drags Bronze Age patriarchy into the present. The top issue to which I devote my time, money and energy is reproductive health and rights. My all-time most read article was titled, “Why I am Pro Abortion, not Just Pro Choice.” But I also think that men deserve to have their own thoughts and feelings about abortion, and to express them. Telling men, “If you don’t have a uterus, shut up.” runs counter to the best of who we are as human beings.

To be clear, a woman’s capacity to get pregnant and incubate a budding human life means that women collectively have something at stake in this conversation that men do not. Our reproductive capacity shapes our bodies and lives in countless ways—including that we risk health and life to bear children, but the ripple effects are much broader than that. Our career paths are more disrupted, we store body fat where men have extra muscle leaving us vulnerable to forced sex, and for millennia, women were reproductive chattel, economic assets belonging to fathers and husbands. This is why, when there is disagreement, decisions about abortion should default to the woman as the person most affected. But while all of that is key to why women must speak up in this matter, it doesn’t imply the converse: that men should not.

Perspective-taking and Empathy
One of the most fundamental aspects of human cognition is perspective-taking, meaning the ability to imagine what another person might be thinking or feeling—to see the world from their perspective. This happens in a minute way every time we engage in conversation or even notice another person. Without it, movies and novels would be impossible. Some other animals can do perspective-taking to a limited degree, but as far as researchers can tell, we are the only ones who can, for example, ask ourselves What might Andy think I think of him? or What is John’s opinion about what Sue suspects are Peter’s motives?” Layers of perspective-taking like this require that we hold mental representations of other minds inside our own.

Because we are social animals, our emotional makeup has been designed by nature to complement this cognitive capacity. We don’t just observe other people’s feelings, we feel them; and people who can’t are scary as hell. Specialized neurons called mirror neurons help to make this possible.

From Ability to Responsibility
The neurobiology of perspective-taking and empathy has led humanity, over time, to develop moral and ethical agreements that further help us to live in community with each other. How should we treat other people and other sentient beings? When we ask this question, perspective-taking shapes empathy, which provides the seeds of compassion, which can be thought of as empathic action. Not all ethical systems hold up compassion as the highest value like Buddhism does, but compassion is fundamental across both religious wisdom traditions and secular ethics. It is often articulated as some form of the familiar Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

The Golden Rule asks us to assume that others have feelings and desires that are similar to our own, to imagine what that might be like for them, and to act accordingly. The Platinum Rule—Do unto others as they would have you do unto them—asks us to step even further into the mind of the other; to consider that someone else’s desires might not be the same as ours under a given set of circumstances. Each of these treats the human capacity for empathy and perspective-taking as core to who we are.

Back to Abortion
Since both men and women are wired for perspective-taking and empathy and since both men and women have the ability to wrestle with moral questions about the wellbeing of others who aren’t like us, here is my controversial take: To the degree that abortion affects any sentient other, including the budding sentience of a developing fetus, men have some responsibility to interrogate and, where fitting, express their thoughts and feelings about it. That applies to abortion access broadly and individual abortion decisions.

If you find yourself balking, ask the following questions: Should Americans have thoughts and feelings about a war that Russians have inflicted on Ukrainians when we are neither? Should humans have opinions and feelings about the lived experience of farm animals? Should we have an opinion about whether wild animals in a drought-stricken desert should be fenced off from water that they can smell but not reach? At some point should we begin trying to imagine the lived experience of an as-yet-fictional AI or alien? Most people would say yes, and some might add that we have a particular responsibility to speak for those who have no voice. (Count me among them.)

Avoiding Incoherence
I fail to see how we can deny the validity of male voices in abortion conversations without broadly trashing the human capacity for perspective-taking and empathy and wrestling with moral questions. We can and do ask men to act as allies to women. But consider allyship in even the thinnest sense of the word, not the kind that means partnership in mutual goals or against a common enemy but the kind that says we should use our position to channel someone else on their issue (in other words, the kind of allyship that many feminists have asked of men in the fight for reproductive rights). Even in this scenario, the ally must use their own thoughts and feelings, and apply their own values, to decide whether and where they will lend a voice. Delegitimize male thoughts, feelings and values, and you delegitimize allyship.

So, it is not coherent to exclude men from conversations about abortion, even if we disagree with what some might have to say. That said, we can ask that men listen. We can ask that men not dominate conversations or force their personal priorities on others. We can ask men to stand with those who are likely to be harmed more by loss of abortion access. We can ask men to accept that, because only females get pregnant, they cannot have the final word on this–not at a policy level, not at a personal level, no matter how passionate they may feel.

Ultimately though, rather than silencing male voices, we must rely on the courage of our conviction that abortion care is a moral good and a human right. We must be willing to wrestle with the uncomfortable need to draw binary yes-no lines across the continuum of development that leads from fertilized eggs to children; and we must emphatically demand full personhood rights for females. Men as well as women are capable of engaging on each of these.

Seeing Men as People
There is another way in which empathy and perspective-taking come into play around abortion. This has to do with the capacity of women to fully engage our own moral emotions and reasoning. When we females look at men through the lens of our own empathy and perspective-taking, we see that they are not merely potential allies here. They are not Americans looking in on a war in Eastern Europe or humans considering the plight of caged chickens—though I don’t mean to trivialize either. Rather, they are themselves profoundly affected by abortion rights and decisions. For women who have birthed and raised a child, the nine months in which they gestated and then delivered an infant were just the beginnings of a multi-decade commitment that radically altered the shape of their lives (and bodies). I once told my friend John that our young children were the both the best and worst things in my life. He laughed—until he had kids of his own.

My point is this. Most of the hardships and joys of parenthood, the sacrifices and delights and shifting pattern of hopes and fears, the unpredictable toggles between weary exasperation and sheer bliss fall on men as well as women. Yes, women have been primary caretakers for centuries and across continents, emphatically yes. But the lives of men, too, are profoundly affected by whether women can freely decide to carry forward pregnancy or not. A young man can have his dreams about school or career or future family utterly derailed by a surprise pregnancy when abortion isn’t an option. Conversely, a man who dreams of being a father may experience a genuine sense of loss and grief when a woman decides to end a pregnancy, even if he agrees but especially if he doesn’t. Research suggests that many men who feel conflicted set aside those feelings in support of a partner. But that doesn’t mean the only way to deal with those feelings is to bury them.

These are not trivial considerations that can be brushed aside by, “Do you have a uterus? No? Then zip it.” For individuals, that stance can create subterranean currents that people may have no healthy place to channel. At a societal level, I think, this kind of position undermines the struggle for inclusive human rights—which is ultimately grounded in our shared humanity.

Shaming and silencing people we don’t agree with or those we designate as “other” based on some accident of birth—that is the norm of human history. Claiming that men have no place in conversations about abortion covers this ancient script with a modern gloss but fails to fundamentally change it. Even if our intentions are good, even if the wild frustration felt by so many women is valid and is the product of sexism that can be traced clear back into the Bronze Age (or into the fog of prehistory), we can do better.  

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings.  Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including The Huffington Post, Salon, The Independent, Quillette, Free Inquiry, The Humanist, AlterNet, Raw Story, Grist, Jezebel, and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.  Subscribe at    

About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt; Deas and Other Imaginings.
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13 Responses to Men Should Be Able to Express Opinions and Feelings about Abortion

  1. Teisha says:

    Well said, as usual. Thank you for your work!


  2. Carl Hoffman says:

    Valerie, We have moved from Tennessee to Connecticut to be close to our only son, his wife, and our grandchildren. I accuse evangelicals of confusing †he culture of †he Bible with the teaching of the Bible. The reason they do this is because they read the Bible literally. They also ignore passages that disagree with their worldview. Our nation is so polarized and evangelicals have been manipulated by members of think tanks to form political voting blocks. Many younger people have become nones because the teaching of the evangelical churches has denied evolution and the scientific method of doing research.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I hope the move brings you a lot of happiness. And I agree with you, that many young people who leave Christianity do so because of biblical literalism–the fact that traditional Christian dogmas become less and less tenable the more we know about ourselves, the world around us, and Christian history. Another subset of young Evangelicals leave because of the ugly bigotries in Christianity, especially sexism, homophobia, and the complete compatibility between biblical Christianity and slavery.


  3. Thomas Hanchett says:

    I am interested in talking with you about your Wheaton College experience. I graduated in 1959 BA in Math. I now have a MA in Marriage and Family Therapy, 1996, U of Houston Clear Lake City. I think we have similar thoughts.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Thomas – I’m happy to talk anytime. My email and phone # can be found in an image on the last page of this website. Thank you for reaching out.


    • BOOKS: Sexual Assault, Loss says:

      As you know, Billy Graham was an alumnus of Wheaton College. The following is from Wikipedia:
      “Students and employees at Wheaton must sign a Community Covenant that classifies “homosexual behavior” as a form of immorality condemned by scripture which they must avoid. The college is listed among the least hospitable in the United States for LGBT students by Campus Pride and The Princeton Review because, among other reasons, the college featured an ex-gay movement speaker in a chapel service.”

      I worked with some students from Wheaton College. Nice people. I knew there was a religious aspect to the college but didn’t know they were evangelical. I erroneously associate evangelicalism predominantly with the south.


  4. Steve Ruis says:

    I don’t have a uterus and I have never looked to others as to whether I had a right to speak out or not. In this arena, I think that the decision to have an abortion is a private, not public matter and people not in the immediate circle of the woman involved need to butt out. This especially means government.

    Were a partner of mine be considering an abortion from our relationship, I certainly would want to be consulted, but the final decision would be hers and hers alone: her body, her choice.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Steve.

      Much of the time abortion decisions are made by couples together, and the healthier the relationship, the more likely that this is true. I do think that when there is disagreement, the decision needs to default to the person most affected, namely the woman. But I also hate the way that we trivialize the experiences and feelings of men. We can’t tell young men that they should care deeply about being good fathers, and then tell them to stuff it when a surprise pregnancy forces questions about whether this is the right time and place and partnership.


      • Steve Ruis says:

        As usual, we are in complete agreement! :o)


      • BOOKS: Sexual Assault, Loss says:

        As you know (and I don’t have to tell you), there may be situations when it is not out of line to tell a man to stuff it.
        On the other hand, there are many good men who are wonderful, loving, caring, supportive fathers. These men are i n v o l v e d in their children’s lives in a positive way and are supportive of mothers, too.


  5. Norma J. Young says:

    I agree that male voices have a legitimate “place at the table” of discussion since their sperm is half of what it takes to make a baby. However; the woman contributes Faaar more; it is HER body alone that is the incubator for this life-in-process; it is HER body that is taking the health risks—which can even be life & death. The man does have a stake in the process–& his life could also be affected by a fetal abnormality/birth resulting in an invalid child to care for–& if things go badly in the pregnancy, he could be deprived of the companionship of his wife or girlfriend.

    But ultimately; I believe it is the WOMAN–& the WOMAN ALONE–who should have the Final Say on whether to continue a pregnancy or terminate it—since she’s taking Faaaar more risk than the man.

    (I did not read the entire article—no time to do so right now; although I’m sure it would be a thought-provoking article—as all of her writing is.)


    Liked by 2 people

  6. Infidel753 says:

    Thank you. The “if you don’t have a uterus, shut up” stance often comes across as “we don’t want your help on this”, even though the pro-choice-vs-forced-birth breakdown among men is not very different from among women. Obviously for any one specific abortion, only the choice of that individual woman should matter; but on the issue of abortion generally, in a free society any person should be able to express their views on any subject. I certainly don’t dispute women’s right to express opinions on issues like vasectomy or fathers’ legal rights which primarily affect men.


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