A Modest Proposal: Mandatory Vasectomies

Reader S. has passed on to me this proposal, from a letter to the editor of the Toledo Blade.  Could be really good for getting some in-class discussion going!

Control men’s bodies as well as women’s

I want to know why it’s viewed as OK for government to control women’s bodies, as proposed by some, and yet we don’t propose that government control men’s bodies. There would be no fertilized eggs without sperm.If it’s OK for the government to tell women that they must carry a fetus to term, whether or not she wants to do so or even if the pregnancy threatens the woman’s life, then why is it not OK for government to tell men that they must have a vasectomy, whether or not they want to do so?Vasectomies control pregnancy and are cheaper and easier than abortions or children. Actually, we could put a great number of issues to rest by controlling the original cause of all pregnancies. We could just nip this thing in the bud.Vasectomies are reputed to be reversible. So, a man could be given a vasectomy when appropriate, at puberty, and then reversed once he and a like-minded female are ready to have children. The government could mark a man’s driver’s license with a special V, so that when asked, a man can identify that he has had the procedure. Of course, vasectomies are not always reversible, but we can hope. Just as we hope that pregnancies work out well for the female, which they don’t always.I thought what was good for the goose was good for the gander. We could start the “V” campaign, V for vasectomies and V for victory over unwanted pregnancies. Men could be pro-V or anti-V, but that really wouldn’t matter as the government would have the control and final say. Let’s hear it for equal opportunity.

Jane Lynam 

24 thoughts on “A Modest Proposal: Mandatory Vasectomies

  1. I want to know why it’s viewed as OK for government to control women’s bodies, as proposed by some, and yet we don’t propose that government control men’s bodies.

    This seems disingenuous. Presumably the pro-lifer does not want to “control bodies” generally, even to reduce unwanted pregnancies. (I’m not aware of anyone suggesting mandatory tubal ligations!) The pro-life principle is simple enough: they think it is impermissible to kill another human being (incl. unborn ones), and autonomy may be restricted in order to prevent such killings. The attempted analogy thus seems to miss what’s at issue in this debate (at least, it surely fails if it is meant to give the reasonable pro-lifer pause).

  2. Perhaps I should say more: The interesting question I take to be posed is why the suggestion, which would indeed reduce abortions, is so obviously a bad one. I’d use it as a teaching exercise by getting students to try to pinpoint all the various ways that the proposal is unacceptable, and to think about the implications of the principles involved. I would take it to have relevance not just to abortion, but also to e.g. forced caesareans and other forms of control over pregnant women’s bodies. And also (obviously) to forced sterilisation of women, which has been advocated for and practised on women of colour, disabled women, and poor women.

  3. I also think it would be worth thinking about why various disanalogies matter. If intuitions about forced prevention of reproduction are different from intuitions about forced reproduction, why is that? And so on. The interest of the proposal lies in all these sorts of questions, not in any simplistic pro-choice argument.

  4. Ah, fair enough, thanks for the clarification. (I can certainly see it leading in to an interesting discussion of consequentialist reasoning vs. deontological side-constraints, etc.)

  5. The government takes lots of actions that control the causes of the causes of what are taken to be bad things. Think alcohol and driving. It doesn’t seem outrageous to prosecute those who enable others to get drunk and then drive. Similarly leaving dangerous things within the reach of children.

    So there seems some legal precedent for allowing one to claim that if something thinks abortions are really bad, then they should ask the state to control not just unwanted pregnancies, but also the causes of unwanted pregnancies.

    Richard seems to be right that the pro-lifer typically does not advocate mandatory tubal ligations, but the argument is a reductio. If they really think abortion is murder, shouldn’t they advocate keeping sperm out of the hands, so to speak, of careless young people. Focusing on the end stage to prevent this ‘horrible national tragedy’ of abortions being performed seems much less effective than is supposed to be desirable. Why not get involved earlier?

    To extend the obvious a bit: the argument continues: but of course they aren’t going to be advocating mandatory sperm control, and so….. .

    OR am I just not getting it?

  6. It’s not obvious that the impermissibility of murder implies that we should forcibly prevent the conception of those who might otherwise become murder victims. (Deontologists claim that we have a duty to not do wrong, but this does not imply a duty to minimize the occurrence of wrong-doing.)

  7. Richard, but in this case the anti-abortionists do tend to think that they have a duty to prevent others’ wrong-doing also. They’ll at least vote for laws against choice and perhaps picket clinics, and so on. Why not act earlier, when one might be more effective? What are the outweighing goods or interests?

  8. When I got my vasectomy, they warned that it technically COULD be reversible, but that I shouldn’t assume it will be. I’m all for vasectomies, but obviously I’m biased.

  9. JJ – autonomy is surely an important consideration here. We may overrule others’ impermissible choices: nobody has a legitimate interest in their choice to murder another. But that’s very different from overruling choices that merely raise the possibility of future wrong-doing. (I assume it is permissible to become pregnant!)

    Compare: it is impermissible to make a promise and then break it. But this is no reason at all to prevent people from making promises. (At most, it is a reason to hold them to a promise once they make it.)

  10. Richard, I think just about all of the anti-abortionists are anti-unmarried-sex and anti-pregnancy-out-of-wedlock, as it is put. The vasectomy regulation was configured to prevent the bad pregnancies.

  11. I wonder: how early can a vasectomy (effectively, safely) be performed? We circumcise babies. That skirts the autonomy issue.

    Having just had mine very recently, I can say the procedure is literally painless, and my recovery was atypical in that I had no soreness rather than “some” soreness–so I don’t think there’s much of an argument that the baby would suffer more from a vasectomy than from a circumcision.

    [Actually, this was my very first thought: getting a vasectomy is *way easier* than carrying a baby to term, to put it mildly.]

  12. JJ, how is your last comment relevant? I’m just trying to show that it’s no great mystery how a reasonable person could consistently be both (i) anti-abortion, and yet (ii) opposed to mandatory vasectomies. Perhaps you’re addressing a different question, and we’re just talking past each other.

  13. Richard, I think we are talking past one another. I was focusing specifically on the challenge to actual anti-abortionists.

  14. Richard, your first comment; “This seems disingenuous. Presumably the pro-lifer does not want to “control bodies” generally, even to reduce unwanted pregnancies. (I’m not aware of anyone suggesting mandatory tubal ligations!)”

    The pro-lifer DOES want to control women’s bodies in fact, by forcing women to continue a pregnancy she may not want to continue. That’s a pretty controlling thing to do.

  15. I’d like to say I’ve been shocked by how productive, intelligent, and civil all of these comments have been. I’m not saying they’re atypical of the site (1st time visitor), just that considering the content of the post, I was expecting a flame war; so, I guess I’d like to say ‘thank you,’ and hope that my contribution will be as civil, and somewhat productive.

    Richard: “nobody has a legitimate interest in their choice to murder another.”

    Oh, but there are people with legitimate reasons to kill.

    First, self-defense; this rationale is usually accepted by people, regardless of whether the person is defending themselves against an adult or a fetus. However, there are pro-lifers who argue that, even when her life is threatened, no woman may choose to have an abortion.

    The argument I heard for this position was: “You only have the right to defend yourself when a person is actively acting as an aggressor. The fetus cannot choose to be an existential threat, and thus, should not be aborted.”

    I am unaware of other arguments for that position, and I’d appreciate it if you could let me know of them.

    I find this argument weak mainly because we do allow non-aggressors to die, even actively kill them in the context of war. Nations accept tens, hundreds, thousands of civilian casualties who are not active aggressors because there deaths are either the unfortunate, but necessary consequence of war OR their deaths help end a war, and there murder’s are considered justified by the net lives saved in shortening a conflict (Hiroshima). But basic philosophy textbooks contain examples that inform our calculation as to why murdering a non-aggressor may be morally permissable.

    Ex: A man is strapped to a tank; this tank is firing at a line of people, killing them off one by one; you may only stop the tank by blowing it up, and killing the man. This example is usually morally troubling for people because the recognize they will be responsible for the consequences of their choice whether it be to allow the tank to kill people, or actively kill the innocent man.

    This leads directly to the Second type of abortion that’s permissible if you recognize that a fetus is a life: Selective Reduction. In a multi-fetal pregnancy, a woman may face a situation where she risks the loss of all the children she’s carrying if she doesn’t abort one of them. Do we say it’s wrong to end lives that threaten other lives? What they consequence of not actively ending one life is the end of multiple lives? If people are convicted of abusive child neglect, don’t we recognize that people have a duty to take affirmative action to prevent a known potential harm?

    The last instance where we may allow people to kill is Euthanasia. If you consider taking a brain dead/comatose person off of life support murder, then that is euthanasia; we, as a society, generally consider that family members have a right to take their loved ones off of life support because (1) they are the one’s with a vested interest in that persons well-being, and (2) once a person can no longer meaningfully consent, we allow others to make decisions for them under the doctrine of ‘presumed consent.’

    I’m sure that there are people who’ve concerned themselves with the topic of abortion, and are familiar with a large number of terminal, congenital conditions whose symptoms include generous amounts of suffering (I could site a fatal form of dwarfism, but I can’t remember the medical name). In instances where a fetus would not know a life beyond immense suffering, an abortion may be a moral means to pre-empt suffering.

    So, yea, despite assertions that we categorically renounce ‘murder’ as an legitimate option, we still allow exercise of that option in multiple circumstances outside of abortion.

  16. Tubial ligation is a MUCH harder to reverse and even can cause long term medical issues for woman a 17% fatality, as opposed to a 0% fatality and a 0% long term detromental affects, 64% of woman experence long term detromental affects from tubial ligation. Thier may be a new procedure soon called the barret clamp procedure where small barret shapped clamps are placed onto the spermical cord, a quick and easy procedure wich is expected to yeild high reversability rights. Anti-abortionists try to trample on the reproductive rights of woman, it’s just a fact. I’m going to post an informal survey very soon.

  17. Unfourtunately, forcing men to get vasectomy’s isn’t really helpful. The group that the suggestion goes after is a very irresponsible group of young men. If this were to occur (which it never would), teen pregnancies go down, but cases of STD’s goes up, way up. Now that this group doesn’t worry about pregnancies, do you think these people would wear condoms? It’s an interesting (and very scary proposition, at least for me), but thankfully it remains in the realm of theory.

    By the way, about ten years ago, an independent minor league baseball team held a vasectomy night, which increased attendance three fold, yet most of the men did not seem to be happy with there spouses… oh well, they tried

  18. In fact, I think this is a very interesting idea. Having an abortion is not a good option, as it destroyes human life. But neither is forcing women to carry a child. Only women have the right to decide whether they are willing to do so or not.
    So, mandatory sterilisation of males may be a very good idea, which could avoid the above situations.
    Vasectomies are indeed a cheap and easy solution to avoid unwanted pregnancies. I doubt if puberty is the most appropriate moment to impose a vasectomy. How will the government control when puberty begins and when a boy gets fertile? Wouldn’t it be better to impose doctors to perform a vasectomy on all born male babies? The same way boys are circumcised afther their birth. If not, it would be good to put an age limite on when puberty is supposed (or: risks) to begin to avoid every risk of unwanted pregnancy (f.e. at the age of ten; maybe vasectomies could be made part of the school physicals at that age).
    A vasectomy reversal could only be allowed if there’s a written authorization of a female which is willing to have children with the man who applies for the reversal. This authorization could be limited in time, so that a new vasectomy is imposed after the female has no more need of the fertility of the man.
    Given the purpose, the fact that a vasectomy is imposed on men, seems acceptable to me. I have had a vasectomy myself several years ago. It was not voluntary, but imposed by my wife, who wanted to shift the burden of contraception to me. She had me operate by a female friend – urologist, who advocates male sterilization strongly herself, as it is, as she says, the best way of contraception that exists.
    Personnaly, I think this is right. It is relatively painless and makes us men take responsibility for contraception.
    So, I think making vasectomies mandatory is a great idea for women and should be incouraged by feminists.

  19. I’m a pro-life male and I agree absolutely with mandatory vasectomies only if every feminist agrees that every abortion is a cold-hearted murder of an innocent baby life. If the bill for mandatory vasectomies and the bill for banning abortions were passed simultaneously then I would agree one-hundred percent with it. Are you willing to accept a modest compromise, or are you all still selfish to realize the truth?

  20. Im a man and I totally agree, why not everyone get a visectomy and then when theyre ready to have children get it reversed, it makes sense, because theres alot of stupid irresponsible people who have alot of fu–in nerve to bring children into this world they dont want, potentially destroying that childs life forever, as long as it was regulated and done right, it would be like getting your wisdom teeth, thats happens around age fourteen for most people, so we’ll fit both things into the same session.

Comments are closed.