Several years ago, I became a regular contributor to Feminists for Life. It wasn't much, mind you, just a few bucks deducted each month automatically from my checking account. I first found FFLA (as it is often called) in 2000 after reading a Frederica Mathewes-Green article on the web. I was very excited to join, particularly as Feminists for Life seemed to advocate a strong consistent-life ethic; they opposed abortion, of course, but also euthanasia, capital punishment, and had several articles on their site about domestic violence.
I joined FFLA because I was eager to match, in some way, my convictions about the sacredness of all life (including embryonic human life) with my belief in equal political, social, economic, and sexual rights for women. Everything I had learned as a student in women's studies courses (and from my solidly pro-choice family) had convinced me that the right to control one's own flesh is the most basic and important right of all, the sine qua non, if you will, of feminism. On the other hand, as my faith grew and deepened (thanks in no small part to my encounters with the Mennonites), I was increasingly convinced that the life of a Christian ought to be one of radical, total non-violence. My conviction that life began at conception deepened as I read everyone from the aforementioned Mathewes-Green to Mary Ann Glendon whose famous address to the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women I have read and reread.
During this time, I came to believe that abortion was also a critical issue for men. Glendon's words from the conference struck me:
...as John Paul II has emphasized, primary responsibility for a woman's tragic and painful decision to have an abortion often lies with men and with the general social environment. All who are genuinely committed to the advancement of women know that society can and must offer a woman or girl who is pregnant, frightened, and alone, a better alternative than the destruction of her own unborn child. Many proponents of abortion as a woman's "right", however, are far from having women's interests at heart. In fact, hiding in the shadows of the abortion rights movement are: irresponsible men; the prostitution traffic...
(Bold emphases are mine)
Honestly, I still find myself in complete agreement with every single word in that paragraph.
I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be a pro-life, pro-feminist man. (For starters, it means you're going to confuse a lot of people, and annoy lots of others. Oh, and you're gonna have lots of 'splainin' to do!) I've come to the conclusion that the only way I can reconcile these two aspects of my faith and my beliefs is to focus solely on calling men to greater accountability. In practice, that means dropping out of the current abortion wars. I have, as of this month, cancelled my contributions to Feminists for Life. I've been thinking about doing so for a while, ever since they quietly dropped their anti-death penalty advocacy (I find nothing about it on the site these days, though there were once many articles on capital punishment) and become a solely abortion-focused movement. At the same time, I'm not going to give a dime to NARAL or Feminist Majority or Planned Parenthood. To the best of my ability, I'm going to avoid supporting either side in the struggle over legalized abortion. My heart is too torn, my politics too conflicted, for me to do anything else.
But I am not going to shirk all responsibility here. Rather, I'm determined to work harder on reaching out to and interacting with young men on the issue of sexual accountability. That may mean several things. For one, it means working with teenage boys to resist the overwhelming culture of peer pressure that encourages them to "hook up" and "hit it" with as many young women as possible It means working to break the cultural connection between having sex and being a "man". It means teaching them that being "responsible" is about more than wearing a condom (though heaven knows, some of them need to start doing just that). It means teaching them that they are responsible for the outcome of any sexual activity in which they engage. At its bluntest, that's a message that says "don't ejaculate inside a woman until you are ready to raise the child that may follow." In my book, coming inside a girl or a woman is the moment at which you give your complete consent to all that may follow as a result, physically, emotionally, spiritually.
I can already anticipate the Men's Rights Advocates' response: "What about the woman's responsibility?" Women, including sexually active teenage girls, have their own agency. They have their own moral responsibilities. But I do believe that at this phase of the struggle, the most effective work that pro-life/pro-feminist men can do is with other young men. That doesn't mean I won't work with and counsel young women (I already do as a youth leader). But my primary focus, and the primary focus of all men who want to end abortion must be to change the hearts, minds, and above all, the behavior of their brothers.
I've decided that in both public and private, I will take no position on whether abortion ought to remain legal. But I will work, in whatever way I can, to make it unthinkable.