Going to the Source: A Commentary About Abortion

Mary Voight

In Wendell Berry’s book, “What Are People For?,” I noticed that he used a sleight-of-hand technique when he wrote about why he refused to buy a computer and responded to women who accused him of exploiting his wife by asking her to type his work. He did not reply by saying, “I love my wife very much and would never exploit her; I am very grateful for her work.” Instead, he discredited his female critics by talking about their weak argument and accusing them of making sweeping generalizations. His tactic validated his opinion without acknowledging theirs, casting himself as superior. 

Rather than listen to the merits of someone else’s needs or point of view, we often attack and seek to create a sense of guilt and inferiority in the other person. This is the cycle we live in. The result is that we often accept responses that sound good and enable people to escape accountability and having deep convictions. 

This is how I feel about our approach to abortion rights.

We do not pay attention to the needs of an already pregnant woman. We excuse and overlook the responsibility of the man in a pregnancy. Who will care for and pay for this child to have a full life — the mother, society, grandparents, the father?  If there is no planned support, then what? Who decides?

We turn it into a debate about when life begins and whether abortion is murder, rather than genuinely listening to the woman. (And if sanctity of life is so important, why do we continue to wage war, allow proliferation of gun violence, and allow sub-par wages?) 

An abandoned woman struggling with income instability and lacking an extended family or church support brings a new life into a cold world. 

I also wonder why there are not many public statements of support by men for a woman’s right to choose.

Why do we continue to say that women “get” pregnant — and, related, that women “get” raped? Why don’t we say that a man impregnated or a man raped a woman?  

It is time for men who love women to demonstrate their “passion” beyond just having sex.

I am writing this commentary after years of being fed up with the simplistic nature of the abortion debate. I see what is happening in Texas. Realizing that Minnesota could go down a similar path is why I had to write down my thoughts.

I try to understand and respect differences (I am married to a Chinese man born in Hong Kong, and I taught Mandarin Chinese for 10 years), but there are historical and global patterns of male behavior. I have witnessed the results of abuses of young Cambodian women and their children. I have met women from Africa who had been trafficked to China. I co-organized a Hong Kong pro-democracy march at the University of Minnesota in 2019.

Here is what I know about a pattern of male aggression: Posing as the “rule of law,” self-serving male vigilantes — such as China’s Xi Jinping — use manufactured laws to destroy democracy and to arrest peaceful pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, where young women are imprisoned and abused. Putin poisons and arrests the opposition in Russia. Lukashenka in Belarus. Orban in Hungary. Duda in Poland. We see it in countries in the Middle East, South and Central America. We see it in Texas and in a growing number of other states.

These are weak men who are not seeking to improve the lives of people. Vigilantes psychologically dwell in the war-like, domineering mentality of the past. As they are increasingly challenged by intelligent women, chipping away at lies and hypocrisy, they do not listen — they fight and manufacture laws to control voices and bodies.

Betsy Hodges wrote in her New York Times opinion piece in July 2020 that we have settled for “illusions of change” — small, token gestures.

Deciding to have an abortion is not a cold, clinical decision that women make easily. There are deep emotional feelings that require compassion and support. I invite the good men among us to be responsible partners.

Mary Voight grew up on the East side of St. Paul in a working-class family. She currently is on the Board of the Living Earth Center and volunteers with the Land Stewardship Project.