Why is this My Issue? A Man Stands for Reproductive and Sexual Justice
Rus Ervin Funk
Jan 20, 2017
I am writing this to you from my home in Kentucky. Our state legislature, which became fully and solidly Republican in the November elections, as first major accomplishments, passed with strong majorities, 2 laws designed to limit a woman’s right to choose, and punish women for even considering getting an abortion (fast-tracked so that they become law immediately). Not long after, our legislature also passed our own version of a bathroom bill (requiring that organizations designate bathrooms be only used by people who are born of that gender), as well as a so-called “right to work” bill.
My legislature is busy!
As a man, who happens to also be white, I am deeply offended and outraged that my legislators would decide that the top priority, given all that we are facing in the state of Kentucky (a poor and rural state, that ranks dang near the bottom on most social indicators) is to limit women’s right to choose.
The two anti-abortion bills that were passed (and were quickly signed by our Governor) include one that doesn’t allow abortions for any reason after 20 weeks (no exceptions for rape, domestic violence, incest or the health of the mother or child). The other bill requires that doctors perform an invasive procedure to “educate” women about the development of the fetus (although women are allowed to refuse to look at the images).
Let me provide some additional background. Kentucky has the long-standing, and still current, designation as one of the most male and white dominated state legislators in the country. We currently have only one Black woman in either the house or the senate. So these laws were passed by men who look like me, with the goal of benefiting men who look like me – and in the process doing real harm to all women. It’s worth noting that all but one of our black male elected officials voted against these two bills.
Now some of you, who are not from Kentucky (and perhaps some of you who are from Kentucky) may well react to this news with little surprise. Kentucky is, afterall a southern, rural and conservative state. We’re the state whose main contribution to national politics of late have been Senator Mitch McConnell and Senator RND Paul. We do have a reputation. What isn’t well known is that Kentucky also has a reputation of resistance, of struggle and of progress for racial and gender justice.
What you all may not know is that I was born and raised in south Texas before coming to Kentucky (with a bit of a detour in Washington, DC). So I came from a conservative rural southern state, and currently live in a conservative rural southern state. Why, you may ask, am I someone who takes a position for reproductive justice. Indeed, you may well be asking how I came to be a someone who works for reproductive justice.
I stand for reproductive justice because I have my reproductive and sexual health needs and responsibilities. Reproductive health and rights is not just about women. Men are a part of reproduction, and have our own reproductive and health issues, concerns and rights. Our reproductive and sexual health issues and needs may, in some cases, be different than those of women, but they exist, and they are real.
For men who are in heterosexual relationships (such as I am), our reproductive and sexual issues, concerns and rights intersect with those of women. But the general conversation, including policy narratives, ignores our reproductive health and responsibilities, and locates all of the responsibilities for reproductive health and wellness on women. When shared responsibilities are n0t shared (by practice or policy) then those responsibilities become a burden for some and a privilege for others. . The current practice and policy debates continue and exaggerate this. And it is being perpetrated by white men who presumably assume that they are acting on my behalf. The current laws that were recently inacted may be written in gender neutral terms, but in effect only impact women. AND, I would suggest, are intended to only impact women. Women are the ones punished if they have an abortion after 20 weeks It is women who are subject to an invasive body-cavity procedure in order to be shown the development of the fetus. As one Kentucky legislator said (in regards to the 20-week law) – “women have a choice 20 weeks prior to this point…” He doesn’t mention anything about men’s choices (or responsibilities) 20 weeks prior to this point, and is conspicuously silent (as is the whole legislative body) about anything related to men’s choices or responsibilities at any point of the pregnancy or abortion conversation. These policies further enshrine that in regards to reproductive rights, men have rights, women have responsibilities.
It is, according to our state legislature, women alone who bear the responsibility for avoiding pregnancy, for carrying a pregnancy to term, for caring for that baby once born, for deciding how best to give up the baby for adoption should she not be able to care for the child alone, and on and on and on. Our (white male) legislators are deliberately silent on men’s responsibilities in these areas which, by default means men retain these rights.
Here’s something for my state legislature to note: women don’t get pregnant on their own!
Justice demands that my rights and responsibilities don’t get sidetracked by rights and responsibilities of someone else, but also that my rights and responsibilities don’t hijack the rights and responsibilities of someone else. These anti-abortion laws that the state of Kentucky just passed do exactly that. They ignore men’s reproductive and sexual responsibilities and rights, while placing the entirety of reproductive rights and responsibilities on that of women. This is not fair! And what is equally irksome, is that the white men in our state legislature believe they acting on my behalf to do so.
This is my because my partner and I struggled with getting pregnant and had access to support services and resources that others don’t – and that’s not fair.
And I’m white! This is my issue because I am well aware of how the availability of reproductive and sexual health services and resources (and thus, the ability to experience reproductive and sexual rights) is differently hindered for black and brown women and men.
There are a host of reasons why reproductive and sexual rights are my issues. And because these are my issues, working to address and advocating and activism is part of my calling too.
© 2017 Rus Ervin Funk