Jackson Doughart
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A note on "optics"

The Cadre, 23 March 2012

Since the controversy about Prince Edward Island’s access-to-abortion policy began a few months ago, I have spent much time considering the claim that male viewpoints about the practice are intrinsically inferior and less valuable. This belief holds that even if they can form an opinion, men should be mostly ignored, since the “optics” of having them speak about the subject are unfavorable. Accordingly, many people, including men, willingly believe that male opposition to abortion is illegitimate, usually on the presumption that such a position results from a male desire for dominance and control over women.

Now that the gloves are off on P.E.I.’s abortion debate, the consequences of this prejudice have moved from the theoretical to the practical. As some readers may be aware, the U.P.E.I. Political Science Society has attempted throughout this semester to organize a public debate on the subject of access to abortion on P.E.I. This event would pit proponents of policy change against opponents thereof, and not simply ‘pro-lifers’ against ‘pro-choicers’, terms which are proving to suffer from serious diminishing returns. Members of the Society feel that the debate should be policy-focused and should include a variety of perspectives, including those of people who oppose abortion.

The planning of this debate has turned out to be an arduous task, especially when it comes to finding a female representative for the pro-change side. The Society, which espouses no official position on the subject and whose members mostly support policy change, has approached numerous women involved in the pro-abortion movement about participating in the proposed event. As of the penning of this essay on March 12, each of these invited speakers, including several faculty members whose work involves the issue of abortion, has either declined to participate or agreed temporarily before declining.

These cowards shall remain nameless, for the sole end of protecting the Society, which still hopes to find a female student or professor who will take part. I will say, however, that these are people whom you would know, and whose complicity in the stunting of public discourse would doubtless surprise you. Once their victim rhetoric is peeled away, it is clear that the principal reason for their reticence is that a public debate, in which direct criticisms of their ideas could be made before an audience, would impede the fruition of their political objectives. Another curious excuse, made by several of these women, involves the presence of male opponents of abortion, to whose viewpoints they feel above responding.

The original debate scheduled for March 14 has had to be cancelled, though the Society continues to plan an event for semester’s end. The group has since approached several female academics, whose research does not involve the abortion issue, about possible participation. Though each has declined for personal and professional reasons, they have been very helpful and encouraging. The same cannot be said of the P.E.I. Reproductive Rights Organization, who has consistently opposed the holding of such a public forum.

Given the number of women who have been asked to speak, it must be accepted that the Society has genuinely attempted to seek out female representation for its proposed event, which would take place on campus at either MacMillan or MacDougall Hall. And the fact that the debate may not happen without a female speaker is a testament to the value put by the Society on including women in the discussion. However, recognizing the importance of women in an access-to-abortion debate is a far cry from mandating the exclusion of male voices, especially when men on both sides of the issue have offered to contribute.

It is of course true that women are involved in abortion in a way that men cannot be, and for this reason are able to offer a point of view which is unique to their gender. But it would be a great mistake to view this as the only legitimate basis for opinion, as many men have sophisticated and learned views that should not be disregarded. Furthermore, the fact that men are often involved in the decision to abort, bear responsibility for the creation of the occupant of the womb, and are expected to contribute financially to the upbringing of an unterminated child are all reasons in favor of their inclusion. And as taxpayers who would pay for abortions under a changed policy, adult men have a stake in the issue which must also be represented and considered.

Moreover, there is no reason to believe that the exclusion of male voices is enough to quell dissent to the pro-abortion Zeitgeist. Measures of public opinion in both Canada and the United States consistently show that women and men oppose abortion with about equal frequency, thereby dispelling the myth that defenders of “reproductive rights” represent a gender-based solidarity. On this point, women who support legal abortion should acknowledge that their position is rooted in a difference of values and not a difference of gender.

The deep suspicion held by pro-abortionists of their male detractors is rooted in the assumption that the latter operates on retrograde and ulterior motives. If this line of argument is to be allowed, one must also concede that many men support legal abortion not out of respect for women but rather due to self-interest. So those who claim that male opponents should be kept on the sidelines of the debate must accept the logical absurdities of what they believe. Such an appeal to “optics” is just a dishonest way of begging the question, which depends upon the bigoted notion that the abortion dilemma should be resolved without men.

Jackson Doughart jdoughart (at) gmail (dot) com