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Why Don't Men Write About Abortion?

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On March 6th, South Dakota enacted America's most stringent abortion statute. It makes it a felony to perform any abortion except where the pregnant woman's life is endangered. This law is another step by the Religious Right to limit reproductive rights. The most recent Gallup Poll indicates that only 16 percent of Americans agree with these restrictions. Yet, in terms of the media, only women seem to care.

There are plausible reasons why the draconian South Dakota law hasn't gotten the attention of men. Why only women seem to be writing editorials and blogs condemning this action. Why only females appear to get that the Religious Right represents a dreadful threat to democracy.

Obviously, only women get pregnant. They are the sex that has to carry a fetus for nine months; whose physical and psychological health is challenged by pregnancy. Ultimately, women have to bear the consequences of failed contraception or an ill-considered liaison; they have to suffer as the victims of rape or incest""which the South Dakota law makes no provision for, by the way.

And we know that this is a patriarchical culture. A lot of us don't believe that it should be that way and are working to change it, but the fact remains that America is run by guys. A culture where it is still more important for men to be seen as tough, rather than as caring and compassionate. Because this is a macho, male-dominated culture, it remains the case that it's usually women who have to worry about contraception. And, sadly, it is often the female in the couple who has to think through the consequences of an unintended pregnancy.

Nonetheless, these sad realities don't explain why American men seem so nonchalant about the Right's attack on reproductive rights. About the fact that conservatives not only want to ban abortion, but contraception and sex education. By the way, this strategy was developed and orchestrated by guys.

Obviously men would be more emotionally involved if the issue affected their bodies. If Christian conservatives passed legislation forbidding vasectomies or making it illegal for anyone who was not their brand of Christian to have sex. (Something they're probably working on, as I write.)

My theory about why the Religious Right's systematic attack on reproductive rights gets so little attention from mainstream men, is that most guys aren't conceptual. The notion that Christian Conservatives are pushing the US into theocracy is just too big, too sophisticated a concept for most men to grasp.

Yet, that's what's happening. The roughly one-third of Americans who are aligned with the Religious Right want the US to become a theocracy, a rigidly Christian nation. This is too abstract a goal to serve as a useful organizing slogan, and so instead, the cunning leaders of the Right use inflammatory issues like abortion, gay marriage, and the teaching of evolution to rally their lemmings. But lurking behind their emotion-driven organizing is the notion of the US as a theocracy. One that will be run by men, of course.

What's this got to do with abortion, with reproductive rights? They're the most visible symbol of men's control over women's bodies. That's been one of the hallmarks of ultra-conservative Christianity since the third century, around the time of the first Council of Nicea. That's when it was officially decided that women couldn't be priests or take positions of power in the Church.

The US has the highest abortion rate in the developed world""80 percent are performed on women over 20. But, the Religious Right doesn't care about reducing abortions. If they did their focus would be on reducing unintended pregnancies by providing sex education and contraception; making "the morning after" pill widely available. It's the Pro-Choice movement that has done the most to reduce US abortions. The "Pro-Life" movement is all about control of sex.

Christina Page's new book, How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America makes some of the same points that I've been making, particularly that the "Pro-Life" movement is all about regulating how we have sex. But I'd go further and argue that the Religious Right won't stop with sex. They want to regulate our behavior. One of the characteristics of the American Christian Conservative hierarchy is that it stifles dissent. Their motto isn't really "Jesus loves you," it's "Do it my way or burn in hell."

The organized assault on reproductive rights, which produced the South Dakota legislation, is part and parcel of a plan to shift America from democracy to theocracy. It's a threat to everything that most of us believe in. Today they're trying to control how we make private medical decisions. Tomorrow it's how we think.

Americans are so used to being a secular state that we're relatively unprepared for an attack by well-financed theocrats. We've been conditioned to expect an attack on democracy to come from without, rather than within. Nonetheless, we're under vigorous, continual attack from the Religious Right.

That's why the abortion issue is of vital importance. So important that men need to pay attention and write articles. Abortion is not just a women's issue.
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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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