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As the Utah state Senate advanced a law last week that could one day ban almost all abortions, one female legislator tried to slow its passage with an eleventh-hour amendment: outlawing “a male from causing an ejaculation to occur outside of a vagina.”
Under the bill, most abortions would become illegal if Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide, were ever overturned. But the amendment would also ban men from carelessly tossing away sperm during “(A) masturbation; (B) coitus interruptus; or (C) any other method used to cause an ejaculation.”
The amendment failed. But that’s kind of the point.
Over the last few years, lawmakers who support abortion rights have adopted an off-the-wall tactic to strike back at extreme abortion restrictions: introducing bills that would limit men’s reproductive rights. By exposing the apparent absurdity of regulating masturbation — and even vasectomies and Viagra — these legislators are hoping to make the conservatives who back near-total abortion bans look like hypocrites.
“It always takes two to tango.”
In 2019, they upped their game in response to a deluge of efforts to ban abortion early in pregnancy. Seven states ultimately passed legislation to eliminate legal abortion at eight weeks of pregnancy or earlier, a trend that would have once been unthinkable even among anti-abortion activists. Alabama’s law, in particular, would outlaw nearly all abortions.
“It always takes two to tango,” said Alabama Democratic Rep. Rolanda Hollis, who recently proposed a bill to force men to have vasectomies once they hit 50 or have three children, whichever comes first. The men would be forced to pay for the vasectomies.
That bill is meant to “neutralize” Alabama’s ban, which would also prohibit abortions in the case of rape and incest, Hollis told AL.com. Her bill notes, “Under existing law, there are no restrictions on the reproductive rights of men.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, noted abortion opponent, didn’t quite get the double-standard reference.
“Yikes!” the Texas Republican tweeted in response to the bill. “A government big enough to give you everything is big enough to take everything … literally!”
After the Georgia state House passed a bill to ban abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy, Democratic state Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick announced in March that she would be authoring a bill to ban vasectomies. She called the legislation a “testicular bill of rights.”
Under Kendrick’s proposal, having sex without a condom would be considered “aggravated assault” and men who want to purchase porn or sex toys in Georgia would be required to wait 24 hours. (Georgia requires abortion patients to wait 24 hours between receiving counseling on the procedure and actually undergoing it. Twenty-six other states have similar waiting periods, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion restrictions.)
“I’m dead serious,” Kendrick told Rolling Stone. “If you’re going to legislate our bodies, then we have every right to propose legislation to regulate yours.”
That same week, five Georgia legislators — including Kendrick — filed a bill that also aimed to regulate men’s bodies. It had a very simple, two-line suggestion: “Any male 55 years of age or older shall immediately report to the county sheriff or local law enforcement agency when such male releases sperm from his testicles.”
The idea of using satirical legislation to highlight government control over women’s bodies goes back at least as far as 2012, when then-state Sen. Constance Johnson, an Oklahoma Democrat, introduced a handwritten amendment to a failed bill that defined human life as beginning at conception.
“Any action in which a man ejaculates or otherwise deposits semen anywhere but in a woman’s vagina shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child,” the amendment read.
Some of the tactic’s biggest hits also include former Texas state Rep. Jessica Farrar’s “Men’s Right to Know Act,” a riff on the “A Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet that Texas requires abortion providers to offer patients. In addition to charging men $100 per “masturbatory emission” — which Farrar, a Democrat, described as “an act against an unborn child, and failing to preserve the sanctity of life” — the 2017 bill also suggested creating a “hospital masturbatory assistance registry” to help men stay abstinent and store semen.
Under the bill, men who want vasectomies, colonoscopies, or Viagra would also have to undergo what the bill freely admitted is a “medically-unnecessary digital rectal exam.” In Texas, abortion providers are legally required to show and narrate an ultrasound of the fetus, regardless of whether a patient wants to see or listen to it. But because women often get abortions too early for “jelly on the belly” ultrasounds, doctors must use a transvaginal ultrasound — meaning, they have to stick a wand up a woman’s vagina.
Then there’s the bill Kentucky Democratic state Rep. Mary Lou Marzian proposed in 2016, which would require a man who wants erectile dysfunction drugs to visit his doctor twice, on separate days, before getting a prescription. Today, 14 states, including Kentucky, mandate that women who want abortions visit the clinic twice, according to Guttmacher.
Under the bill, only married men could receive these drugs and their spouses would have to provide written permission for the prescription. The man would also be required to “make a sworn statement with his hand on a Bible that he will only use a prescription for a drug for erectile dysfunction when having sexual relations with his current spouse,” according to the bill.
“This is about family values,” Marzian told the Courier Journal at the time.
Cover image: Nenad Cavoski/iStock / Getty Images Plus