It's Time For Liberal Men to Break the Silence On Abortion Rights


I have the same litmus test for allies that I do for political candidates, and without passing this litmus test, I cannot align myself with you. It's quite simple, really: do you actively support abortion rights? All too often, men on the left fail this test. All too often, abortion rights and women's rights are ignored, even on the left. How am I supposed to take you seriously when you don't take my rights seriously?

For a candidate to earn my vote, they must be pro-choice. They must say they're pro-choice. They must have a consistent record of voting in favor of abortion rights and opposing abortion restrictions. That's a must. If we have that, I can move to the next step of deciding whether or not I will cast a ballot in their favor. But unless a candidate respects my basic right to reproductive autonomy, they have no shot of ever earning my vote.

The same goes for allies. Too often, activists on the left pay lip service to reproductive rights with a simple "I'm pro-choice" and then move on to other, "more pressing" issues. Abortion rights are continually sidelined and ignored by male progressive activists who feel that there are other matters that are more important upon which to focus. If you were one of the 200,000 women that needs help paying for an abortion every year, you wouldn't feel that way. If you knew that 694 abortion restrictions were passed in the first three months of 2013 alone, you wouldn't feel that way. If you knew that more than half of women in America live in an area hostile to abortion rights, you wouldn't feel that way. If you knew that in the U.S. military, women are banned from obtaining an abortion on a military base, even if they use their own money, you wouldn't feel that way. If you truly valued women and women's human rights, you wouldn't feel that way.

It is no secret that virulent anti-choice vitriol plagues the current Republican Party, and nowhere is that more clear than in the inane and offensive comments that continue to spew forth from the mouths of Republicans in Congress, including Representative Trent Franks' offensive and inaccurate comments about how rarely pregnancy results in rape. Todd Akin is not an anomaly, but a pattern of misogyny, anti-scientific reasoning, and anti-choice zealotry that runs rampant in today's GOP. Don't believe me? Take a look through "It's Not Just Akin" and prepare for an anti-choice trip you won't soon forget. These politicians should be roundly criticized and held accountable for their horrific comments and staunch opposition to reproductive freedom. There are many activists and pro-choice groups, organizations like the National Network of Abortion FundsNARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Abortion Federation, and EMILY's List, that lead the charge against these kinds of offensive statements and anti-choice legislation. They could desperately use support from progressive allies. So why are progressive men largely staying silent?

This isn't a new phenomenon on the left. In the late 1960s, the New Left rallied around anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist politics, centering much of their discourse on opposing the Vietnam War. Yet, women were often ignored or outright denigrated; progressive men seemed to care little about the voices and perspectives of the women with whom they were working. Women's Human Rights advocate and Professor of Women's and Gender Studies at Rutgers University Charlotte Bunch highlighted that, even if it may not have been intended or malicious, progressive men simply didn't think to include women. They didn't think about what it felt like to be a woman, to experience the world as a woman, to experience injustice as a woman. Honestly, it seemed like they didn't really care.

This reality still underwrites much of progressive movements and politics today. We see it with current civil liberties hero Glenn Greenwald, who has dismissed abortion rights in much the same way that the New Left dismissed women's participation, and supported candidates like Ron Paul who are rabidly anti-choice. We see it with otherwise progressive candidates like Anthony Weiner, who outwardly supports abortion rights but privately has issues respecting women

The fact remains that even if progressive activists identify as pro-choice, that doesn't always translate into vocal support for abortion rights. In fact, some activists on the left support political candidates with abysmal records on abortion rights and insulate themselves from criticism by mirroring back criticism that those of us who are in the trenches of abortion rights are too myopic to see the forest for the political trees. 

Abortion rights are central to women's human rights and human dignity. A United Nations report classifies abortion bans as a form of torture against women. This issue is imperative to the human dignity of women globally, and yet all too often, abortion rights are largely ignored by progressive and radical activists. Perhaps they think that those of us who do this work, who write about, protest about, organize around abortion rights are enough. But it's not enough to pat abortion rights advocates on the head and say "Good job!" while ignoring abortion rights in favor of issues you find more important. It's not enough to say you're pro-choice when you support candidates who actively work to overturn Roe v. Wade

Abortion doesn't have to be your centerpiece issue or your litmus test, like it is for me. But for me to align myself with you, for me to take you seriously as an ally or a political candidate, you need to prove that you value something as important as abortion rights is for women. You need to actively stand in solidarity with abortion rights advocates. You need to express contempt for those who seek to undermine reproductive autonomy. You need to understand that when you ignore abortion rights, you ignore women. You ignore women's concerns. You ignore women's basic human rights. You ignore progressive values.

So until you prove to me that abortion rights matter to you, you won't have my vote. You won't have my support. You won't be my ally. Access to abortion is a fundamental tenant of women's human rights. If you don't actively embrace abortion rights, you don't respect my autonomy and dignity as a woman.

If you don't support abortion rights, you don't support me.