On the “Being a Woman” Argument in Abortion Debates

A male friend of mine recently had an argument with a woman about legal abortion. He opposed, and she favored. As often happens in such disputes, she told him, more or less, “You aren’t a woman, so you don’t have a right to argue about this. Just won’t understand, and you can’t understand what this is like for a woman.”

He made the same mistake that so many others like him have made: he didn’t concede this obviously true point. The fact is, men don’t truly understand this in the way that women do. Men will never get pregnant, either with or against their will. The emotional strains, fears, and even joys of pregnancy, are largely foreign to the male experience.

But she was wrong, too. The fact is, many women use this argument simply as a means of shutting down conversation. This argument usually happens when pro-choice women are failing to find good justifications for their beliefs, and they can only respond by trying to kick men out of the discussion. Rather than having debate, this argument is used as a means of shutting down dialogue. Rather than explaining to men this difference and trying to help men to understand and to empathize, they just try to kick men out.

Of course, many pro-choice men and women do have strong arguments for their position. But, as it’s commonly used, this argument just isn’t one of them.


After reading this, one of my friends, Mary McGiffin, had the following comment, which I found very helpful and have copied below with her permission:

I think this article should expand a little to say WHY and IN WHAT WAY men don’t understand pregnancy, so that it may be clearer why that’s not the bottom line in the pro-life/pro-choice argument.

Men don’t have to fully grasp just what an enormous self-sacrifice it is to have an unplanned child. Unexpected pregnancy completely, entirely, 100% changes a woman’s point of orientation for how all of her life will henceforth be lived. Her future plans have to be entirely reworked from every single angle, which is emotionally brutal.

HOWEVER, the reason that this point of self-sacrifice must be conceded, then pushed through, is this: self-sacrifice is not a negative thing. We are all called to it at various points in our lives — perhaps women more forcefully than men, thanks to their physiology. But just because a woman didn’t have it in mind to be in a certain situation, and just because she has higher material stakes in the case, does not mean that positive moral action isn’t still her human duty.

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