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Where the Boys Aren't

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Writers aren't supposed to start their stories with statistics. But sometimes it's inevitable. So here's one that seems pretty relevant to the current discussion regarding contraceptives and women's health care: Men are involved in 100 percent of all pregnancies.

But our voices are mostly missing from the debate.

It's time we spoke out, boyos. The pill is our contraception, too. Biology and the pharmaceutical industry may have conspired to produce the pill for women but their use of it has made our sex lives a lot simpler, and let's admit it, a hell of a lot more enjoyable. We've got it pretty easy when it comes to consequences, too. Romance can have a profound physical impact on women, which means men share an even greater moral responsibility for women's health and family planning. Let's also acknowledge here that if nature had given men the duty of childbearing and the physical agonies of delivery that the planet would still be a barren lonely place.

The childhood tale of the birds and the bees was more than a clever euphemism; it was a way of teaching our young that sexual reproduction was a relational thing. Both parties have a responsibility for a pregnancy, which seems like a pretty obvious fact that ought to be hard to overlook. But that appears to have happened in the present national discourse over funding women's contraceptives and family planning.

We're from Texas, which, despite the legendary efforts of the late Gov. Ann Richards does not earn honors for its kind treatment of women. We lead the nation in the number of women without health insurance; we have the worst rate of women receiving prenatal care; we're fourth in teen pregnancy; and we're sixth in the number of women in poverty.

Despite this dismal record, ask a Texas man what he'd do if some yahoo called his girlfriend a slut and you'll likely hear chivalrous brags about ball breaking and nose busting.

There is a kind of chivalry missing from this discussion, but not of that sort (as much as we might like to see it acted out on Rush Limbaugh). When it comes to their bodies and their health, women aren't defenseless lasses who need the protection of big, strong men. What they do need, however, is for men to accept their responsibility, biologically, morally, and politically, to play a substantial role in the health of their partners. And even though Texas might be the politically least likely place to start such a movement, we are launching an effort to get men to stand up with women to protect their contraceptive and health care rights. Here is our first TV spot:

We want our fellow males to remember that when the Misogynistic Armies of the Right march against women, they are also carrying pitchforks to use on us. Family planning is a private matter. But the politics of family planning are public, and men, if they are to be men of character, need to stand publicly with women against those who threaten women's health. We must not allow rights to receive care to be harmed by juvenile sexual insecurity, political cynicism, or ugly gender bias.

And if your chivalry is dead and you are a man thinking only of yourself, there is a lot of data to get you to stand up anyway with the good guys. Planned Parenthood screened more than 4 million patients in 2010 for STD, STI, HIV and HPV. Here's another one of those disturbing almost 100 percent statistics, too: Women testing positive for those conditions contracted their problem from a man. So, fellas, how hard is it to understand that when Republicans try to defund Planned Parenthood, it's your health they are jeopardizing, too?

The Politics of Slam-Bam-Thank-You-Ma'am leaves men caricatured as forest creatures that spread their seed and then slip back into the trees to find another mate. We don't get to have our way and then leave women to their own devices, which, arguably the conservative right is promoting. Barefoot and pregnant without support of the father and health care is a pretty good definition of barbarism.

Women-hating or women-fearing men like Limbaugh get all the attention, of course. One of the essential causes for Limbaugh's limelight is that the rest of the male populace, whose political knuckles do not drag on the ground, doesn't speak loudly enough or even open our mouths to express a principled stand. It's a sad old joke that men don't know what happens after sex because they've fallen asleep. Politically, the germ of truth in that joke is turning into an infection of silence.

Wake up, boyos.

You finished too soon. The Right is climbing in your bedroom window. This is not just a question of women's health care; it's about the health of every American drawing a breath. It's past time to speak up. Write letters to elected officials. Make your voices heard on social networks. Don't just attend women's health care rallies. Organize them. Give to Planned Parenthood. Vote the barbarians out of office.

Because of physiological differences (have we mentioned how happy those make us?), men and women need different kinds of health services. And those of us who are of the male gender ought to be embarrassed that women's health care is a political issue. That singular fact in this election year points to a moral and medical failure. The line might be a bit hackneyed but it's probably true that if men got pregnant, reproductive health and the sanctity of individual choice wouldn't be issues.

But we do get pregnant, boyos. Do we really need to explain that pregnancy is a biological and emotional condition shared by men and women? Consequently, we are participating in each other's health. Your woman's private life is your private life and it is being invaded by repressive politics from the right.

There's a reason no one ever talks about "men's health care." Women understand that. A lot of men, however, don't. And it's time we all did. There's really only one kind of health care; it's human health care.

And we all have a stake in it.