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If men got pregnant, abortion would be legal everywhere

The concept of women deciding when, whether and how to have children, is still a threat to the status quo.

The seahorse is a fascinating creature. Aside from being evidence that whatever god of creation may have existed was on some truly excellent hallucinogens, seahorses –Hippocampus hippocampus – are a species where the male gets pregnant. Life would be a lot more interesting if human beings had to breed like seahorses. For a start, I highly suspect that the right to terminate a pregnancy would not be under violent attack across the western world.

This past week, an armed misogynist broke into a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and killed three people after a stand-off with police. PP is the biggest organisation offering abortion, contraception and sexual health services in the US, and it has been under sustained attack from conservative activists and politicians who will not rest until abortion is illegal.

This week, a high court judge in Belfast ruled that abortion might just be permissible in cases of rape, incest or foetal abnormality, which is a huge step forward, considering that women across Ireland are forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term in all circumstances. Those who commit the grievous sin of having consensual sex, however, are still on their own, unless they have the funds to travel to England.

There is a pattern here. The concept of women having actual goddamned agency over their lives and bodies, the idea that we might get to decide when, whether and how to have children, is still a threat to the status quo. We grudgingly allow women to make decisions related to sex and reproduction as long as they feel an appropriate degree of guilt, and hoard that guilt away in private. Have an abortion? You’d better be sorry about it for the rest of your life. Get pregnant without a partner? Be prepared to spend 18 years explaining yourself. Leave paid work to have a child? You’re lazy, spoiled and frivolous. Carry on working after your kids are born? You’re cold, selfish. Get sterilised? You’re an unfeeling, unnatural monster. Whoever you are, if you have a uterus and dare to make a decision about what comes out of it, shame on you. Shame is the overarching theme here, shame and scorn for anyone with the temerity to behave as if their own humanity is important.

I am sick of explaining to misogynists that women are people whose choices and autonomy matter. Instead, let’s go back to considering the seahorse. Consider how different the world would be if the people with the capacity to bear children were the people society already considered fully human. Consider what would happen if men got pregnant.

If men got pregnant, abortion would be available free of charge and without restriction in every town and city on earth. No man would be expected to justify his decision to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. It would be enough for him to say, “I don’t want to have this baby.”

If men got pregnant, then pregnancy, ­labour and childcare would immediately be recognised as work and compensated as such. The entire economic basis of global capitalism would be upended overnight. After the ensuing bloodless revolution, the phrase “work-life balance” would disappear from the lexicon, along with the line, “I don’t do condoms, babe.”

If men got pregnant, “pro-life activists” would be called “forced-birth extremists”, and reviled as such by liberals, libertarians and every political movement with a claim on human freedom.

If men got pregnant, they would be considered not mere vessels for potential human life, but human beings whose agency ought to be inviolable. Men would not stand for having their basic rights to sexual freedom and personal autonomy confiscated, even if in some people’s opinion they might be committing murder. Men are often prepared to commit murder for reasons far less egregious than the occupation of their bodies by a foreign invader. There is a sizeable lobby in the United States right now that believes that people should have the right to slaughter anyone who breaks into their home, or looks the wrong way at a police officer, or does almost anything that might conceivably be considered suspicious while also being black.

If men got pregnant, they would never be told that if they did not want to conceive, they should not have sex. Major world religions would rush to reinterpret their scripture; any verses appearing to ­condemn abortion or contraception would be considered in the same light as those dooming wearers of mixed fabrics to fiery damnation eternal.

If men got pregnant, nobody would consider a man’s choice to have or not have children the defining feature of his adult life. There would be no shame in seeking sterilisation, just as there is no shame today for a man seeking a vasectomy. When a man made a decision about when and whether to have children, he would be able to count on having that decision respected, rather than being called selfish, lazy and slutty, or warned that he would “regret it some day”.

If men got pregnant, somebody would have already invented a breast pump that was fit for purpose.

If men got pregnant, they would not be forcibly penetrated with cameras and obliged to look at an ultrasound of the foetus before getting an abortion. Instead, sports channels and video games would be available in the procedure room, plus a free beer with every procedure.

If men got pregnant, pregnancy and childbirth would not be dismissed as “natural”, but treated as heroic acts of sacrifice. Forcing a man to go through either against his will would be considered the equivalent of the military draft and protested as such.

If men got pregnant, having a 'baby belly' would not be a source of shame. Men would show off their stretch marks and Caesarian scars like battle wounds.

If men got pregnant, pregnancy and childbirth would not be dismissed as 'natural', but treated as heroic acts of sacrifice. Forcing a man to go through either against his will would be considered the equivalent of military drafting and protested as such.

In point of fact, some men do get pregnant. Transsexual men have borne children, but their experience is not part of the popular understanding of reproductive rights - because people don’t get pregnant, women get pregnant, and when you get down to it, women aren’t really people. The structure of modern misogyny is still grounded on the fear that women might one day regain control of the means of reproduction and actually get to make their own decisions about the future of the human race- but you cannot force a person to give birth against their will and consider them fully human.

If men got pregnant, we would not be having this conversation. The fact that we still are shows how far we’ve got to go before equality becomes reality.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

This article first appeared in the 03 December 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Syria and the impossible war

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Brexit could destroy our NHS – and it would be the government's own fault

Without EU citizens, the health service will be short of 20,000 nurses in a decade.

Aneurin Bevan once said: "Illness is neither an indulgence for which people have to pay, nor an offence for which they should be penalised, but a misfortune, the cost of which should be shared by the community."

And so, in 1948, the National Health Service was established. But today, the service itself seems to be on life support and stumbling towards a final and fatal collapse.

It is no secret that for years the NHS has been neglected and underfunded by the government. But Brexit is doing the NHS no favours either.

In addition to the promise of £350m to our NHS every week, Brexit campaigners shamefully portrayed immigrants, in many ways, as as a burden. This is quite simply not the case, as statistics have shown how Britain has benefited quite significantly from mass EU migration. The NHS, again, profited from large swathes of European recruitment.

We are already suffering an overwhelming downturn in staffing applications from EU/EAA countries due to the uncertainty that Brexit is already causing. If the migration of nurses from EEA countries stopped completely, the Department of Health predicts the UK would have a shortage of 20,000 nurses by 2025/26. Some hospitals have significantly larger numbers of EU workers than others, such as Royal Brompton in London, where one in five workers is from the EU/EAA. How will this be accounted for? 

Britain’s solid pharmaceutical industry – which plays an integral part in the NHS and our everyday lives – is also at risk from Brexit.

London is the current home of the highly prized EU regulatory body, the European Medicine Agency, which was won by John Major in 1994 after the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty.

The EMA is tasked with ensuring that all medicines available on the EU market are safe, effective and of high quality. The UK’s relationship with the EMA is unquestionably vital to the functioning of the NHS.

As well as delivering 900 highly skilled jobs of its own, the EMA is associated with 1,299 QPPV’s (qualified person for pharmacovigilance). Various subcontractors, research organisations and drug companies have settled in London to be close to the regulatory process.

The government may not be able to prevent the removal of the EMA, but it is entirely in its power to retain EU medical staff. 

Yet Theresa May has failed to reassure EU citizens, with her offer to them falling short of continuation of rights. Is it any wonder that 47 per cent of highly skilled workers from the EU are considering leaving the UK in the next five years?

During the election, May failed to declare how she plans to increase the number of future homegrown nurses or how she will protect our current brilliant crop of European nurses – amounting to around 30,000 roles.

A compromise in the form of an EFTA arrangement would lessen the damage Brexit is going to cause to every single facet of our NHS. Yet the government's rhetoric going into the election was "no deal is better than a bad deal". 

Whatever is negotiated with the EU over the coming years, the NHS faces an uncertain and perilous future. The government needs to act now, before the larger inevitable disruptions of Brexit kick in, if it is to restore stability and efficiency to the health service.

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