Women’s Rights, Men’s Rights, and Abortion

Abortion is not a subject that gets a lot of attention in the Muslim community. Part of the reason for this is that the issue itself is overly politicized in the American context. Today’s Muslim activists typically are more aligned with the political left and, for this reason, tend to foreground causes that are more at home with that end of the political spectrum.

But abortion is a very important issue from the perspective of Islamic law and ethics. Before Islam, the pagan Arabs were infamous for burying alive unwanted infants and Allah Himself admonished them for this horrific practice.

In today’s discourse on abortion, the idea of a “woman’s right to choose” is very prominent. What is neglected, however, is a man’s right to choose. What recourse does a man have if he wants or does not want a child?

Some feminists make the argument that women have the right to choose whether or not to complete their pregnancy and give birth to a child because ultimately it’s their body, and if they don’t want an unborn child feeding off of their bodies, then they have a right to decline that responsibility (up to a certain point in the pregnancy, etc.). But, what if a woman wants to have a child, but the man does not. Or the woman does not want to have a child but the man does. He doesn’t have any choice in those situations.

The lack of choice for men, however, could be a matter of lack of technology. Imagine a kind of treatment that men can get in the future where, if their partners get pregnant, they can flip a switch, if they choose, and the genetic material that the men contributed becomes inert, thereby functionally aborting the fetus. This would give men an equal choice. But how would society view this? How would feminists view this? If a woman wants a child but the man is against it, he doesn’t even have to consult her or get her approval or anything. He can just flip the switch and be on his merry way. And why shouldn’t he be able to do that? It’s his genetic material after all. Shouldn’t his consent matter for how that material is used?

This is really what “pro-choice” should entail. The idea that men can just opt out of any pregnancy they want should sound despicable. But if it’s despicable for a man to opt out like this, why is it ok for a woman? If “pro-choice” feminism is all about equality, why do women have the unilateral prerogative to keep or terminate pregnancy? It’s not men’s fault that reproduction heavily involves women’s bodies, but they are given no choice in the matter.

But again, imagine if scenarios were reversed. Through some future technological breakthrough, men carry the pregnancy. Would men therefore deserve the exclusive right to do what they want with the unborn child, including terminating the pregnancy, keeping the pregnancy a secret and just moving away so the child never sees the mother, etc. Or would feminists regard that as yet another manifestation of patriarchal power and authority, that men control the outcome of reproduction to the exclusion of women, yet again, disempowering women, etc.?

Hopefully thought experiments like these shed light on how incoherent and inconsistent so much of modern sexual ethics really is.