Gay Marriage versus Reproductive Rights

by Alexander Sanger

Katha Pollitt recently penned (see http://www.thenation.com/article/205049/theres-reason-gay-marriage-winning-while-abortion-rights-are-losing) another one of her astute analyses of the failure of reproductive rights to gain traction with the American public. She points out that gay rights are on a juggernaut to legality and respectability. She sets forth a number of reasons, a few of which deserve elaboration.

Sexual freedom – the Puritanical culture demands punishment for women (not men). So true. But Pollitt doesn’t say why. We’ll get to that.

Men don’t see reproductive rights (being for women) as being that important. Polls show that men and women support (and oppose) abortion rights almost equally and always have since polling began after. She doesn’t mention the so-called men’s rights movements, which see abortion rights as being antithetical to a man’s right to become a parent only with his consent. Nor does she mention the uncomfortable truth that women oppose abortion rights almost equally with men.

Pollitt points out that low-income women suffer with abortion restrictions. So true. She doesn’t mention that many low-income women also support restrictions on abortion rights. So what is going on? Are they demented? Under their husband’s thumb?

Pollitt goes on to mention that marriage equality takes nothing away from anyone, whereas abortion and contraception “give power to women and take it from others: parents, employers, clergy and men.”

Ah, finally.

Abortion and contraception are about reproduction and who controls it. It is, in the view of many, a zero sum game – either men control when a child is to be conceived and born, or a woman does, though ideally it is a decision made jointly. So why do some women oppose having that control? I mean, it is their body, their health, and their life.

In a Gallup Poll from 2012 (the most recent I could find with this breakdown) those with a household income of over $75,000 called themselves pro-choice versus pro-life by 58-36, whereas with those with a household income of less that $30,000 the ratio swung the other way, 41-46.

One reason might be that low-income women, and men, see family formation and a male income as vital to survival and see restrictions on their own, and other women’s, reproductive rights as contributing to this. Male reasons include increasing paternity certainty that their children are theirs (DNA testing may be too new to have changed evolved behavior) –hence the Puritan culture that punishes women for infidelity. Restrictions on contraception and abortion also decrease the ability of husbands to stray with impunity – this is in a wife’s interests. Since contraceptive sauce for the goose is contraceptive sauce for the gander, women will give up this right for a, in their view, more vital goal. Restricting the reproductive rights and liberty of the “other woman” helps keep husbands home.

Women and men have reproductive strategies, sometimes individually sometimes in partnership. Contraception and abortion are inextricably intertwined with these. It is all about reproduction. There is a battle of the sexes, like it or not. It’s just that not all women see reproductive freedom as being in their reproductive interests, just as not all men see reproductive freedom for women as being antithetical to theirs.

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