No, Telling Men To Get Vasectomies Is Not The Answer Right Now

We need to stop pitting vasectomies against abortions. Here's why.
A vasectomy sign at a pro-choice protest in the US.
FREDERIC J. BROWN via Getty Images
A vasectomy sign at a pro-choice protest in the US.

Since news of the overturning of Roe V Wade broke on Friday, ending the constitutional right to abortion in the US after almost half a century, abortion rights activists have galvanised, and social media efforts have amplified.

You may have seen posts alluding to the fact that a woman can only foster one full pregnancy a year, while a man can impregnate multiple people in a day, should he have the opportunity. And the solution often suggested: vasectomy, the surgical procedure that cuts or seals the tubes that carry a man’s sperm.

Amid so much anger around the policing of women’s bodies, the impulse to suggest that men’s bodies should also be policed is understandable.

In a world of reduced abortion access, where women are left either to manage birth control or carry their babies to full term, people are once again suggesting we shift the onus to men in the form of mandatory vasectomies.

In fact, this view has been circulating on social media for a while now. And while many people are probably not being literal in their calls for vasectomies, it speaks to the widespread rage over moves to control bodily autonomy.

However, many people are pointing out the flaws in the argument.

Vasectomies aren’t an ‘alternative’ to abortion

This suggestion has basic logistical failings, as PHD researcher Georgia Grainger, from the Centre for the Social History of Health and Healthcare in Glasgow, has pointed out in a Twitter thread.

As a historian of vasectomies, Grainger, aka @sniphist on Twitter, stresses that the procedure is not an alternative to abortion.

This is because women will still need terminations, she says, both of wanted and unwanted pregnancies, regardless of vasectomies and other forms of birth control.

Nor are vasectomies a failsafe form of birth control – and when in rare cases they do fail, it’s not usually obvious until the pregnancy is identified, she says.

In her thread, Grainger also highlights that even if someone had insisted they’d had the surgery, could you trust that they really had?

Especially, in the case of abusive relationships or sexual assault, why would someone who doesn’t respect consent take up an invasive surgery for the benefit of someone else?

Forced sterilisations are deeply problematic

Grainger stresses this important historical point. Forced sterilisations have been trialled as several points during history and they enforce eugenics, she says. The policy has predominantly been targeted at minority groups to stop them from procreating.

In US history, indigenous Americans, Black and Latinx people, incarcerated peoples, and poor communities endured forced sterilisations.

These groups were targeted throughout the 20th century, with nearly 70,000 people forcibly sterilised (and not just men, an overwhelming amount were working-class women of colour).

Germany also has a history of coercive sterilisation, having sterilised disabled people, institutionalised people, and even alcoholics. In Nazi Germany, the Hereditary Health Court also known as the Genetic Health Court, was a court that decided whether people should be forcibly sterilised.

Grainger is not the only one to point out these troubling historical precedents.

Bodily autonomy for all, not some

People have also pointed out that if we want better rights and autonomy for women and people who can get pregnant, this has to mean protecting these rights for everybody

Do we really want men to face the same bodily scrutiny applied to women – and for men who chose not to go through the procedure to be vilified?

Nor does the vasectomy vs abortion binary do much for trans and nonbinary people who also need access to abortions, and are often excluded from discussions of these human rights.

As the debate continues, Grainger’s insights have gone viral on Twitter, amassing more than 75,000 likes.

But, as she pointed out in her own thread, she is still pro-vasectomy, as long as they’re for the right reasons and for people who genuinely want them.

Ultimately, we shouldn’t pit vasectomies against abortions, she says. Abortions will always be needed, whether because the pregnancy is failing, the pregnant person is at risk, because there wasn’t consent to the sex in the first place, or simply because the pregnant person doesn’t want children.

So next time you see calls for mandatory vasectomies or are temped to make one yourself, remember that it’s not as straightforward as it seems.