After the passing of the contentious Texas Heartbeat Bill, social media lit up with exasperated and impassioned opinions from both sides of the aisle. One of the most frequently reposted ideas was a call to mandate vasectomies for all adult men.
Intended as humor, this call was meant to highlight the injustice of forcing women to be solely responsible for the outcome of a two-person activity. The question behind the joke was: Where are the consequences for the fathers?
What makes this idea more compelling for some is that mandatory vasectomies would be a proactive - rather than reactive - solution to unplanned pregnancy. The method is deeply flawed, however, in part because mandating vasectomies for all adult men would still be an individualistic solution to a systemic problem.
But, at the heart of the joke is a question we should ask: Why not make it so that abortion isn’t necessary at all?
Doing so would require us to push back against the American tendency to provide individualist solutions for systemic problems. And this kind of solution is not unique to the abortion debate: We see it time and again in discussions of the climate crisis, privilege, and sexual abuse in the American Catholic Church. Individualist responses follow the “one bad apple” line of thinking. They also look like green-washing advertisements, making individual consumers believe that their personal shopping habits will undo decades of widespread pollution instigated almost entirely by corporations.
Placing responsibility for pregnancy solely on a man or a woman allows the problems that lead to abortion to go unchecked: poverty, education inequality, healthcare inequality, workplace gender inequality, lack of familial and community support, and a rampant culture of violence against women. Women don’t just get abortions because they can. Abortion is a systemic issue, and any number of factors can heavily influence a woman’s decision to procure one.
This is not to say that individual perpetrators of inequality and violence should not be held accountable. However, laws against abortion don’t necessarily alleviate the systemic issues that lead to abortion. Making abortion illegal doesn’t automatically reduce poverty or close gaps in healthcare, education, and work. Making abortion illegal doesn’t magically mend broken families, communities, or churches. And for what it’s worth - mandating vasectomies wouldn’t solve those problems, either.
Individualism is the culprit, not the solution. We need more than individual accountability to make abortion unnecessary - we need to change the systems that often lead to it.