Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has very little hope at this point of getting the presidential nomination. But that’s not stopping her from courting the evangelical vote even harder, introducing a new federal abortion restriction bill and releasing a video touting her anti-choice credentials.
“Abortion regret” propaganda, which involves a handful of women declaring that their supposed remorse about their reproductive choices should mean fewer basic rights for the rest of us, was already nauseating enough. But if you’re really interested in vomiting in your mouth, I urge you to check out the growing tendency in anti-choice circles to bring men’s “abortion regret” to the forefront. Because the men were not actually in charge of the decision, these cases have even ickier connotations: that it’s somehow OK, and even desirable, for men to try to control women’s options.
The most recent example of such stomach-churning rhetoric is titled “The Apology,” produced by Heroic Media and discovered by Anna Merlan at Jezebel:
Freud famously posited that women suffer from penis envy, but this video demonstrates, conclusively, that the opposite is true: These cis men’s uterus envy has reached the level where they’re saying, “I had an abortion,” which is physically impossible for biological reasons. The whole video is underpinned with the belief that men should own women’s bodies so completely that even a woman’s experiences are assumed to belong to them—while the men themselves benefit from avoiding unwanted parenthood. It’s a win-win situation for these men, and the only thing they have to do is shed a few crocodile tears over their supposed “mistake” in not bullying the women they were dating into choosing to have a child.
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Sadly, this video is not an anomaly. Websites like Reclaiming Fatherhood and Men Regret Lost Fatherhood cover the same basic territory: Men, who have the luxury of being able to live the lives they wanted because of abortion, claiming “regret” in order to steal that choice away from everyone else.
The irony here is that this focus on men appears to be motivated, in part, by the desire of the Christian right to shut down accusations of misogyny by instead framing abortion as something society, feminism, and careless men inflict on women. Those behind the narratives evidently want to dodge accusations of picking on women by placing the responsibility on men. They invoke images of chivalrous men dutifully marrying women they knock up, or, if not that, at least trying somehow to save the fetus with promises of help. The word “rescue”—both of the fetus and of the woman—is all over “The Apology.” Other sites focus on the idea that men can somehow stop abortion by being more invested in and more supportive of women they impregnate.
When you look more closely at the details, it becomes clear that what is being promoted here isn’t the gallant saving of grateful pregnant maidens, but rather a call for men to be domineering. “I should have manned up and I should have fought for you,” one man in the video says. “I was neither here nor there, so I never even fought for the opportunity to save the child,” says another. But we’re never given any indication of what this “fighting” might look like. We aren’t told much about how the women felt at all. That omission suggests the details are unsavory—that “fighting” looks less like the conservative ideal of heroically offering support, and more like haranguing and shaming women into having children for you.
When we dig into stories of male abortion regret at another site, Silent No More Awareness, the implications of emotional manipulation become even more obvious. One man whose girlfriend aborted and appears to have dumped him is angry that she hid the abortion, knowing that he’d try to stop her. Then he calls her a “dismal, heartless Cosmo girl” after she wises up and leaves him.
Another man, whose wife aborted because their marriage is on the rocks, uses the abortion as a pretense for relentlessly badgering and bullying her. “The estrangement is hard to fix and my wife can’t seem to share with me the horror and grief I still feel,” he writes. “She thinks I’m trying to instill guilt in her (but I wonder what she had done with her guilt feelings as a mother.)” For the record, I’m guessing she feels that way because that is exactly what he’s doing.
A third writes, about going to the abortion clinic, “We were there almost six hours waiting. I had a lot of ‘second’ thoughts during that wait. I knew deep down inside that what we were going to do was wrong, but at the time wasn’t strong enough to get up and walk out.” I doubt he is really confused about whose body needed to be there to get the abortion; after all, his girlfriend could have still gotten the procedure without him there. This suggests, then, that what he really regrets is not stomping out in a rage in an attempt to change his partner’s mind.
For a movement apparently trying to avoid charges of misogyny, it’s odd to see anti-choicers highlighting stories of men who wish they’d been bigger assholes to women.
But even if they really were just encouraging men to try to “rescue” pregnant women with offers of marriage, there’s a real flaw in many of these abortion regret stories. If getting married to the woman and having children with her was, in fact, the right choice, it’s hard not to ask why they didn’t go on to do just that. Deciding not to get married and have a child is one of those regrets that is easy to remedy! All you need to do is get married and have a child.
The fact that these men have almost never done that with the women they felt destined to breed with suggests that it was not, in fact, meant to be—either because they didn’t want it, the woman didn’t want it, or both. But they’re still so committed to the general idea that other men should force this on women that these kinds of obvious objections get ignored.
Because of all this, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this “men regret abortion” thing is less about “life” and more about reinforcing the idea that men should control women. Sometimes it’s through feints of chivalry, and sometimes through outright emotional manipulation, but it always comes back to the same idea: that women are not to be trusted to make their own decisions, so men should do it for them.
On January 22, President Obama announced a new White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault to tackle the issue of sexual assault on college campuses. In his East Room declaration, Obama said, “Sexual violence is more than just a crime against individuals. It threatens our families, it threatens our communities; ultimately, it threatens the entire country.” The president praised an “inspiring wave of student activists” for calling attention to this issue and told women and men who have survived rape and sexual assault, “I’ve got your back.”
The task force was first mentioned in a report released in January by the White House Council on Women and Girls, called Rape and Sexual Assault: A Call to Action. Though that report looked at sexual assault in all settings, it did devote a good deal of time to college campuses, which are notorious both for the prevalence of sexual assault and the lack of response by schools. The report noted:
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The dynamics of college life appear to fuel the problem, as many victims are abused while they’re drunk, under the influence of drugs, passed out, or otherwise incapacitated. Most college victims are assaulted by someone they know—and parties are often the site of these crimes.
Schools must have policies in place so they can both prevent crimes and respond more effectively when rape does occur, the report said. It went on to note:
To accomplish these and other goals, the President today is establishing a White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. The task force will:
Provide educational institutions with best practices for preventing and responding to rape and sexual assault.
Build on the federal government’s enforcement efforts to ensure that educational institutions comply fully with their legal obligations.
Improve transparency of the government’s enforcement activities.
Increase the public’s awareness of an institution’s track record in addressing rape and sexual assault.
Enhance coordination among federal agencies to hold schools accountable if they do not confront sexual violence on their campuses.”
Not Alone goes into greater detail on each of these points. It suggests that all colleges conduct a campus climate survey, so administrators and students can understand the extent of the problem at their school. There is an accompanying tool kit for schools to use to determine not just how many students have experienced sexual assault, but the circumstances under which these assaults have taken place—did the survivor know her attacker, were they at a party, was alcohol involved, were there bystanders or witness? Additional questions ask how the sexual assault was handled after the fact and if students know the school’s policies and procedures for filing a report. The task force suggests that all colleges and universities conduct such a survey in the upcoming year, and it’s working with lawmakers to see if there is a way, legislatively, to compel schools to do so. The task force will also work with researchers at Rutgers University to evaluate the survey tool and revise it as necessary.
Once a school understands the problem, the task force believes it is important to take on three specific issues: preventing sexual assault, responding to it, and being open and transparent in discussing the realities on their own campus. For example, the report suggests involving men as allies in prevention and conducting bystander education programs to urge students to step in when they see anything that looks like it might not be consensual. It also suggests that all colleges need someone a survivor can talk to confidentially, a comprehensive sexual misconduct policy, improved disciplinary policies and adjudication procedures, and trauma-informed training for all staff who will be involved along the way.
The Obama administration seems committed to helping administrators implement
each of these steps; the report notes that the U.S. justice department, through both its Center for Campus Public Safety and its Office on Violence Against Women, is developing training programs for school officials, campus police, and local law enforcement that are based on research into how victims of trauma react and how to increase trust between survivors and law enforcement. The Department of Education is creating a similar program for campus health centers. The justice department is also looking to identify and publish best practices for adjudicating campus sexual assault cases, and the Department of Education has released new guidance urging schools to change their disciplinary process to forbid questions about survivor’s past sexual history with anyone but the perpetrator and prevent parties from being allowed to cross examine each other, among other things.
Finally, the task force wants more transparency about sexual assault on campus and has said it will work to increase enforcement to ensure schools are not attempting to sweep the problem under the rug. To that end, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights will release “a 52-point guidance document that answers many frequently asked questions about a student’s rights, and a school’s obligations, under Title IX,” the report notes.
Among many other topics, the new guidance clarifies that Title IX protects all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, immigration status, or whether they have a disability. It also makes clear that students who report sexual violence have a right to expect their school to take steps to protect and support them, including while a school investigation is pending.
The issue of sexual assault on college campuses seems to be continually in the news as incidents are reported at schools across the country. In just the past week alone, there have been highly publicized cases at Amherst College, Brown University, and Vanderbilt University.
As Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement released with the report, “Colleges and universities need to face the facts about sexual assault. No more turning a blind eye or pretending it doesn’t exist. We need to give victims the support they need—like a confidential place to go—and we need to bring the perpetrators to justice.”