I asked my daughters, 12 and 17, if men should keep our mouths shut about abortion because we can’t get pregnant.
I had barely gotten out the last syllable before the 17-year-old snapped back with a definite: “Yes! 100 percent!” The 12-year-old then added an unequivocal: “Absolutely!”
They both had the same looks on their faces, the one that appears when Dad has asked a really dumb question or said something terribly inappropriate. I get that look a lot.
Of course, there is a caveat. If we’re being honest, what bothers many pro-choice women is not that a man would have an opinion about abortion. It’s that a man would have an opinion about abortion that differs from theirs. They’re fine with men who agree with them.
Men who believe that the decision of whether to end a pregnancy belongs solely to a woman and her doctor are considered allies of the pro-choice movement.
As allies go, I’m not a very good one.
As the country awaits the decision of the Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — a ruling that is expected to overturn Roe v. Wade, which established a federal right to abortion within a trimester system — I’m not feeling anger or angst.
You won’t find me picketing outside the homes of Supreme Court justices. Anyone who engages in such behavior should be arrested, prosecuted and jailed for attempting to interfere with the deliberative process of the high court.
Mostly, what I’m feeling is ambivalence. Like most Americans, I have mixed feelings about “the a-word,” the frequency with which it occurs, how people defend it and the dishonesty of the debate.
There is a reason that Congress prefers to stay far away from this issue. It’s too messy. And what makes the mess isn’t just the emotions, but also the nuance.
A recent poll from the Pew Research Center detected plenty of nuance. While most Americans support abortion rights, many are conflicted on the subject. A majority — 56 percent — say how long a woman has been pregnant should be a factor in whether abortion is legal. The further along in the pregnancy, the less support for abortion.
The Pew survey — of 10,441 adults — found that 61 percent believed abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while 37 percent said it should be illegal most or all of the time. The extremes took a pummeling: Just 19 percent said abortion should be legal in all cases, and only 8 percent said it should be illegal in all instances.
Lastly, Americans drew a distinction between what is moral and what is legal. While 47 percent see abortion as morally wrong in most or all cases, a higher percentage — 48 percent — can imagine circumstances in which abortion, while morally wrong, should still be legal.
These findings are no surprise. The United States is a pro-choice country. But most Americans also favor restrictions on abortion. We want the procedure to be legal and safe, and we also want it to be rare and not taken lightly or trivialized by those who undergo it.
Americans likely have many reasons for feeling uneasy about the abortion debate. In my case, a few things give me pause.
■ The number of abortions, while going down, still seems too high. In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control reported it found 629,898 abortions were performed, out of 49 reporting areas. The National Right to Life Committee, using numbers from the Guttmacher Institute, estimates that in the nearly 50 years since Roe vs. Wade was decided in 1973, there have been more than 63 million abortions in the United States.
■ Abortion (other than in cases of rape or incest) allows both parties who made a baby (men and women) to dodge responsibility for careless behavior or bad decisions that cause an unwanted pregnancy. Several years ago, when I wrote about abortion, I heard from women who underwent the procedure long ago but who still resented their partners for offering no emotional support. Giving a woman the right to an abortion should not give a free pass to the man.
■ Politics is about compromise, and yet those in the pro-choice crowd consider that a four-letter word. They don’t budge. They push back against every proposed restriction, whether it’s waiting periods or parental notification laws or a ban on late-term abortions. And they demand 100 percent loyalty from their allies, along with a blank check.
Add it all up, and the result is that I have mixed feelings about abortion. And, it seems, I’m not the only one.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His podcast, “Ruben in the Center,” is available through every podcast app.