Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Vasectomies For All (guest post by Antonio Haynes)

by Antonio Haynes

Since the execrable decision in Dobbs, there seems to be a cottage industry of articles discussing the increase in men having vasectomies. Indeed, a recent New York Times article explained that, “Vasectom[ies], a quick, outpatient surgical procedure that cuts the tubes that carry sperm, [are] one of the most reliable and cost-effective forms of contraception available — with almost none of the side effects or complications of birth control methods that are geared toward women.” Nevertheless, the procedure remains relatively rare. “[I]n the United States, an estimated 500,000 men get the procedure each year. Some surveys suggest roughly 5 to 6 percent of men between 18 and 45 have gotten the procedure, as opposed to roughly 20 percent of women aged 15 to 49 who have gotten their tubes tied.”

According to one urologist, Dobbs itself might change everything: “In April, May and June, 38 young, child-free men got vasectomies at his clinics, making up 4.6 percent of his clients. In the weeks after the ruling, that percentage grew to 9 percent — 63 younger men got the procedure. Most said they had been on the fence for a few years, but the Supreme Court decision was “the final straw.” “Snip, snip, hooray!”

In this brief column, I would like to ask why vasectomies are not a cultural norm. And I would like to explore that question by analogizing it to another cultural norm that we have in this country: the routine circumcision of male infants. For present purposes, I put to one side circumcisions that are done for religious reasons or for true medical reasons. I suggest that while we are circumcising newborn infant boys, we may as well go ahead and give them a vasectomy as well. With such a cultural norm, in which all men would be infertile until they have their vasectomies reversed, there would be few accidental or unwanted pregnancies, and therefore fewer abortions. Men would have to “opt-in” to fatherhood, and be required to undergo surgery to do so.

I recognize how provocative of a position this may be. After all, unlike circumcision, vasectomies are literally invasive. But why should that matter? By an accident of nature, the male genitalia are outside of the body, whereas the female genitalia are inside. So, a surgery that is less complicated and has fewer side effects might well be invasive, but it is a form of contraception that is more easily reversible in men than it is in women. Moreover, using invasiveness as a criterion for objection probably proves too much. A pregnancy invades a woman and co-opts her organs in a way that a temporary deprivation of spermatozoa does not.

It might also be the case that a vasectomy, unlike a circumcision, is more than a minor intrusion on the male body. While a circumcised man can fulfill his full sexual potential, a vasectomized man cannot, because he can no longer become a biological father. This argument is also suspicious. Circumcision deprives men of thousands of nerve endings for no obvious reason. Sexual gratification is reduced. Sensitivity is reduced. And yet, none of that is true with vasectomies. A man, can after all, still ejaculate and orgasm.

One might also object to my proposal by claiming that vasectomies are tantamount to forced sterilization, a practice that was used for discriminatory and eugenic reasons. But that objection is also incorrect. With the exception of a few cases in which the vasectomy cannot be reversed, there is no forced sterilization. Moreover, if all males were given vasectomies as a cultural norm, then it is unlikely that invidious discrimination would be at play.

Thus, we are left to wonder why not give vasectomies to all. In the end, I suspect that any opposition to my approach is rooted in sexism. Depriving men of their manhood is, apparently, something society is not prepared to countenance. But in a world in which women are denied equal stature and may well be forced, against their will, to carry pregnancies to term, we ought to explore policies and practices that might reduce the burdens that women face.

At bottom, if the only answer is that we would never give men vasectomies while we circumcise them because men should have a choice about what happens with their body, then we are left with yet another example of just how impoverished a decision Dobbs is.