Rep. Chris Rabb (D-Pa.) got media traction recently when he proposed requiring vasectomies for men once they hit age 40, or after their third child, whichever came first.
The idea was intended as parody, but unfortunately the joke was buried at the end of a series of tweets and wasn’t clarified until a few days later. While Rabb failed in whatever point he was trying to make about abortion restrictions, he further failed by using the legislative process simply for a PR stunt.
But there were two positive unintended consequence of his bad faith proposal. First, whether parody or not, putting out the idea highlighted the potential of extremism in government mandates, which can run counter to the essential core value of educated self-determination. Second, it showed how essential men – half the population – are to family planning.
Vasectomies are not a topic for polite dinner conversation, but a few years ago I was with a group of committed environmentalists when several of the older men started talking about theirs in some detail. They remained acutely attuned to the overpopulation piece of conservation and environmental degradation, even as the broad green movement abdicated responsibility in discussing overpopulation as integral to these issues. Appropriateness of the discussion over a plate of pasta aside, I thought, well, hey, they’re proud of their commitment to doing their part to limit population growth. That’s a good thing.
They are just a small sample. Every day men across the world step up to their role in family planning. Thanks to work begun in 2013, there’s now a world vasectomy project that gained momentum with the documentary film, “The Vasectomist,” by Jonathan Stack, which featured urologist and vasectomy advocate Doug Stein. The two cofounded the World Vasectomy Day (WVD) nonprofit project to educate men and women about vasectomies. WVD works with health organizations to build sustainable and scalable programs, and now includes partners and allies in more than 30 countries, making it the largest male-focused sexual and reproductive health movement ever, according to their website.
The WVD project has put together a substantial team that includes medical, sexual and reproductive health advisors. The group provides training, offers lectures, conducts pop-up clinics and otherwise inspires men’s participation in family planning in many ways including through the “Responsible Men’s Health Club,” supporting more than 80,000 vasectomies worldwide since 2013. World Vasectomy Day is now a multi-day event scheduled this year for November 13 to 20.
Among the organizations and policymakers who work on family planning issues, the focus traditionally has been on educating girls and women. When this happens, the thinking goes, marriage and childbirth are delayed. Additional focus has been on ensuring access to health care and contraception for females, which includes the discussion on the importance of spacing of children, for the health of the mother and the child. WVD’s work has done much to broaden the dialogue, placing emphasis on the value men bring to family planning. Other groups increasingly are doing more to bring men into the loop.
The global development and advocacy organization Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung (DSW) educates, trains and connects youth with each other in Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. DSW writes of men’s essential role in improving reproductive rights in Africa, noting that “men’s general knowledge and opinions on major factors such as the ideal family size, spacing between births and contraceptive methods used have a significant influence on women’s own preferences and attitudes.”
In Niger, where contraception rates are low, and maternal mortality rates and illiteracy are high, men in the Schools for Husbands program meet to talk about reproductive health situations within their communities and seek solutions working with health personnel. Practical solutions to problems solved by the men in Schools for Husbands included building a home for a midwife and constructing a proper toilet when women said the lack of one was a reason they didn’t go to the maternity facility. Overall, the use of family planning services tripled, according to the United Nations Population Fund. The setup provides the men an opportunity to look at maternal health differently and is a way to help change attitudes and actions.
One more example of men coming to the table for family planning comes from the Population Media Center (PMC), founded by Bill Ryerson more than 20 years ago. PMC develops entertaining programming to encourage positive changes in behavior relating to women’s rights, education of girls and responsible parenting that emphasizes good communications between wives and husbands about their families. PMC has documented success, helping more than 500 million people in 50 countries.
So, Rep. Rabb, thanks for putting men back in the equation on family planning. Millions of men are stepping up to do their part. Through continued focus on education and noncoercive measures, and lending support to organizations such as WVD and PMC, millions more will be encouraged and educated on making good choices for their partners and families.
Copyright 2021 Maria Fotopoulos, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate
Maria Fotopoulos writes about the connection between overpopulation and biodiversity loss. Contact her on FB @BetheChangeforAnimals and [email protected].