Why Reproductive Rights Groups Want To Woo Men


Flyer for this week's "Men for Choice" event

Flyer for this week’s “Men for Choice” event

CREDIT: NARAL Pro-Choice America

NARAL Pro-Choice America is marking this Wednesday as “Men for Choice” day. The group is encouraging male supporters of abortion rights to tweet about their position with the hashtag #MenForChoice, and they’re hosting a first-of-its-kind event on Wednesday evening to celebrate “men for choice and the women who love them.”

While reproductive rights have typically been framed as a women’s issue — and male politicians’ efforts to police them have been widely derided — NARAL isn’t shying away from the notion that working toward bodily autonomy involves leveraging support from people with all different types of bodies.

“Reproductive freedom is a core value that we all share. The recent attacks on our freedoms affect women first and foremost, but are an affront to all people who hold human rights as a value,” Ilyse Hogue, NARAL’s president, explained to ThinkProgress. “We want men on our team, not only at the elected level but at the grassroots level too. This is how we show solidarity and how we win.”

The group’s fundraising event on Wednesday will feature several prominent progressive men, including Vice President Joe Biden’s son, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle’s (D-SD) son, former press secretaries for Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and former Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA). NARAL has indicated that it will be replicated as an annual event.

“Men for Choice” isn’t the only recent campaign of its kind. Several months ago, Choice USA — a national pro-choice group that works to mobilize young Americans for reproductive justice — kicked off a “Bro Choice” campaign. “Many men have realized the ways that reproductive oppression affects them and the ones they love, and how some traditional ideas of masculinity hurt everyone,” the group explains on its website, encouraging pro-choice men to “be part of the solution” and join the fight for progressive policy change.

Kierra Johnson, Choice USA’s executive director, told ThinkProgress that the idea for the campaign was actually sparked by college students across the country who work with the group’s local chapters.

“Women in our chapters were looking for ways to authentically engage men on campus, and men were looking for opportunities to work on issues that impact their friends, partners, classmates, as well as themselves,” Johnson explained. “We wanted to create a space for men to have these conversations on how to be good allies, but also about their personal stake in protecting reproductive freedom.”

The Bro Choice campaign coincided with Texas lawmakers’ aggressive push to curtail reproductive rights by enacting stringent restrictions on abortion clinics and banning abortion procedures after 20 weeks. This summer, amid the groundswell of grassroots protests against the GOP-led legislature’s anti-choice priorities, one male activist decided to bring Bro Choice’s message to the Lone Star State.

Ben Sherman, a senior staff writer at the political blog Burnt Orange Report (and a former ThinkProgress intern), published a post in July about why men should stand up against the legislative attempt to restrict reproductive freedom. “The old way of viewing reproductive rights as a women’s issue alone is easier and in some ways encouraged by outdated parts of masculine culture, and it’s wrong,” Sherman wrote. “When men stand with Texas women against this bill, they are also standing with Texas men.”

His post went on to list the reasons why men should strongly oppose efforts to restrict women’s bodily autonomy — after all, he notes, pregnancies don’t happen on their own, and men likely want their partners to be able to decide whether or not to continue them.

Sherman’s pitch for Bro Choice enraged the anti-choice community, which was quick to leap on his blog post as proof that men support abortion rights just so they can have casual sex without worrying about facing the repercussions of a potential unintended pregnancy. Breitbart News, for example, blasted “the disgraceful ‘bro-choice’ movement, created by horny young men who think ‘women’s right to choose’ translates to ‘men’s right to use.’ ”

In an interview with ThinkProgress, the Burnt Orange Report blogger brushed aside the criticism. “The right-wing jumped at the opportunity to accuse me and all pro-choice men of having ulterior, salacious motives,” Sherman said, pointing out that type of knee-jerk reaction is grounded in a “simplistic generalization of men” as primarily preoccupied with sex.

Sherman believes the truth about men is actually “much more threatening” to the anti-abortion community than the false notion that abortion rights groups are trying to spin their cause as an avenue for men to get laid. “Millions of men are waking up repulsed to the suppression of American women, and they won’t pretend women have to bear it alone,” Sherman told ThinkProgress. “Any man with a good head on his shoulders can see that restricting women’s ability to live their lives as they see fit is deeply wrong, and un-American.”

Nonetheless, abortion opponents are back at it, attacking NARAL’s new “Men for Choice” initiative with many of the same critiques they leveled against Sherman. Some members of the anti-choice community are attempting to hijack the #MenforChoice hashtag with a recent story about a man who slipped his girlfriend an abortion-inducing pill without her consent (which is, obviously, not what lending male support to bodily autonomy means at all).

And efforts to include more men in the fight for abortion rights have drawn some criticism from the left, too. Some progressives have expressed concerns about catering to men’s needs within a woman-led movement, as well as ultimately serving to further the gender binary.

Choice USA disagrees, noting that it’s the young people on the ground who are pushing for this type of approach. “Organizing and advocacy are about meeting people where they are, so you can’t make any part of their identity invisible. Young people are looking for ways to engage in activism that recognizes this and allows them to bring their whole selves into their work,” Johnson noted. “That’s why we have seen a positive response to the campaign on campuses across the country — these students want a place where all genders are welcome to have honest conversations and work together for reproductive justice.”