I say that as a husband, a Catholic, and the father of two daughters.

Jeremy Freeman/CNN

So far in 2019, 27 abortion bans have been enacted in 12 states. After Louisiana’s ban at six weeks’ gestation, Missouri’s at eight weeks, and Alabama’s near total ban, I’ve seen the outpouring of action by women, sharing their most personal stories and missing school and work to protest. But men have been largely silent.

We can’t just sit on the sidelines while women work to protect reproductive rights. If men support a woman’s right to choose, they need to get up and support it. I say that as a husband, a man of faith, and especially as a parent blessed with two daughters and a son.

My family is Catholic. I know well the Catholic teachings. It’s been easy for me to separate my faith from the laws in our country because we don’t live in a theocracy. We live in a democratic, secular state, where the burden is not to find a way to impose your faith on others. It’s the exact opposite—democracy is about making sure nobody can enforce their beliefs on you or anyone else. In a democracy we rely on science and data to guide our decisions. If we were to rely on religion, how could we ever decide when life starts? Catholics are taught it begins at conception; Jews say it begins around 40 days. Other faiths say something else, so what are you going to pick? You might think you win today if you’re Christian and your beliefs inform our jurisprudence on a woman’s control of her own body, but what happens when this country is majority atheist, or majority Muslim, or majority something else, and they turn and put their beliefs on you? That’s why you don’t play that game.

It’s tricky to explain all of this to my kids. I know we’re raising them in a faith that, frankly, looks down on women, says women can’t have equal roles, can’t have equal power. And parents know: You can’t fool kids. My answer? What’s fundamental is the source of your faith. Believe in a wisdom bigger than your own; believe the simple message of God: love, mercy. That’s what I’ve tried to teach.

Coming to an understanding about faith doesn’t make navigating today’s politics any easier. In May my oldest daughter asked to march in New York City to support abortion rights. At first I had reservations; I worried about her safety, but I also wanted to understand why she was going. She was processing it as well. She told me, “If I were to get pregnant today”—not something any father wants to contemplate about his 16-year-old—“I could have an abortion and I wouldn’t have to tell you.” Yes, that’s true under New York state law, I told her, and we talked about whether kids should be able to make those kinds of decisions without their parents. We talked about how I think it’s always important to come to us about big things like this, because you get to make a choice only once, and you have to make sure it’s the right one for you.

Her reply: “But why should any man be able to tell me how I can treat my own body? Am I equal to you or not? Because nobody’s telling you what to do with your body.” I explained how some people believe that the life inside a woman should be recognized as a person with legal rights, and she pointed to the science, the viability standard of when a fetus could survive outside the womb, which was part of the decision in Roe v. Wade. This was like many of our discussions about faith and democracy: Your faith might tell you to reject the science, but that does not mean you get to change the law.

pChris Cuomo with his wife Cristina Greeven Cuomo and their three childrenp
Chris Cuomo with his wife, Cristina Greeven Cuomo, and their three children

Courtesy of Chris Cuomo

One of the first cases that came up after Roe affirmed that women could make their own decision. Planned Parenthood v. Caseyasked whether or not a woman had to tell her husband before she got an abortion. Why? Because the idea that she needed permission was an extension of our patriarchal society, the notion that a woman is chattel and does what a man says. I’ve raised my daughter to never, ever seek a man’s approval for anything.

I used to joke that I was a shotgun-and-shovel kind of guy: If you’re coming to my house to date my daughter, you better be hands-up and have packed a lunch because it’s going to be a long day for you. But I evolved because, as she got older, I realized that I didn’t want to insulate her—I wanted to equip her to make the best choices. Now I tell her: You do whatever you want as long as it’s on your own terms. And if you’re not sure, you can talk to me or talk to your mom (she’s the smarter one anyway).

The cascade of abortion bans completely contradict what I’ve told her that her reality should be. I’ve always tried to make her feel assured that there are no limitations on who she wants to be. That nobody gets to define her except herself. This is not about being pro-choice or pro-life—that’s not an accurate reflection of what this fight is about. This is about pro-women’s-choice and anti-women’s-choice. There are people who believe women should not have this choice. That’s what motivated her to go down and march—her fear for herself, her future.

I let her go to the march. She stopped by my office afterward, safe, tired, and hopeful. My fears, however, haven’t dissipated. I worry, of course, that she’ll lose the right to control her body and reproductive health. But increasingly that’s the least of my concerns. If we allow our society to decide that people don’t have determination over their life, their future, their body, where does it end? Where will that lead us? If you can tell somebody, “I’m sorry, sweetheart, you can’t have this procedure,” what’s next? We don’t know. Maybe: We’ve decided we don’t like physical augmentation either; we don’t like you changing how you look because it’s not how God made you. We’ve decided you must always submit to men, to your husbands, because that’s what scripture says. And on and on.

I’m also afraid for her generation and how this might jaundice their views of our democracy. What is a more powerful and corrosive way to make people not want to participate than to rob them of their most personal, intimate, and profound choices? How can we move forward when a generation could feel so disempowered from making decisions?

The parenting struggle I have now is that I have to help my daughter understand that she lives in a society that doesn’t necessarily agree about what’s best for her. That’s not easy. I tell her she has a right to feel the way she does, and that sometimes you have to fight for things that you shouldn’t have to fight for at all.

But I’ve also told her I will fight with her. I will ask men to stand alongside her and her fellow protesters. Nobody’s saying we want abortions because we’re in the people-killing business. Nobody’s happy to have an abortion. We’ve had difficult pregnancies; we’ve had things not go our way. We’ve had to agonize about what to do. We know the pain of it. My wife had to suffer, and I suffered by her side. There’s a pain in the powerlessness of how little we men can help.

As men, we must listen to women’s fears, concerns, and considerations. We cannot be deafened only by the sound of faith. If you are a man of faith, consider whether or not it’s right to thrust your religion on others. Start there. If you’re not doing everything your faith tells you to do every single day, be very slow to talk about how anyone else should live.

Men say they cherish women. But more often than not they don’t want to cherish; they want to control. That’s what you have to ask yourself as a man: Do you want to create a situation that is fair and just, or do you want control? That’s a big distinction. Are you man enough to respect women as your equal, as a partner? If you truly cherish women, cherish their wisdom to make their own choices.