It’s striking that, as with many other gender equality issues, the positions of men in relation to abortion are rarely discussed.
In some regards, this is for good reasons. Abortion is a healthcare issue for women (and trans and non-binary people with uteruses). It’s about them having the right to determine what happens to their own bodies. The fact that, despite all the medical knowledge and tools at our disposal in the 21st century, abortion rights remain under threat in so many countries arguably connects to the desire of patriarchal societies to exercise control over women’s freedom – and deep-rooted patriarchal insecurities about reproductive processes which men don’t have power over. Even now in the UK, for example, a woman needs approval from two doctors to have an abortion.
Politics across the globe remains highly masculinised, so it is largely men in positions of power who are voting to curtail women’s bodily autonomy. Stark photos of male lawmakers signing off anti-abortion legislation remind us of this.
Similarly, many of the people involved in the anti-abortion movement, such as those protesting outside of clinics with often misleading imagery and messaging about dead foetuses, intimidating patients and staff, are men.
Yet it’s also possible for male politicians to vote to improve abortion rights. When the UK’s 1967 Abortion Act was enacted, 96% of MPs were men. One of us previously interviewed the former Labour MP Peter Jackson, whose commitment was fuelled by a woman in his constituency being imprisoned for carrying out abortions. On his role in getting the legislation through parliament, Jackson remarked:
If you ask me what was my most important contribution, it would be my role in bringing about rights for women which they never had before.
So we need more male parliamentarians to recognise their responsibility to act as allies to women. But whilst the situation has improved since the 1960s, we also need much better representation of women in politics, to increase the likelihood that women’s needs and experiences will actually be taken into account in decision-making.