"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, June 14, 2013

Paternity–Abortion and Men’s Rights

Since the Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade, many men have wondered about the Court-mandated absolute right of a woman to determine the outcome of her pregnancy.  What about the rooster’s contribution? Doesn’t that count?

Most women, encouraged by feminists and their ‘progressive’ supporters, have never doubted the wisdom of this ruling.  However, men who do not want to abort the fetus, who willingly and happily confirm their paternity, and want the baby to come to term and be born, have no rights whatsoever.  Time and time again men who have brought suit to prevent a woman from aborting their child have failed.

“How many such men can there be?”, say women brought up to believe that men are inherently, innately aggressive predators.  If a few men are unwillingly left out of the reproductive equation, so be it.  The law is intended to protect the millions of women assaulted, raped, or coerced into sex.

The issue, however, is not so simple.  I knew of a vile woman who, approaching 40, tricked her boyfriend into having unprotected sex because she wanted a child.  She told him that her period had just ended and that there was zero chance of her becoming pregnant.  In fact she was at her most fertile, and she, indeed became pregnant. Despite the boyfriend’s insistence that she have an abortion, she refused.  Not only that, she demanded that he contribute to the upbringing of the child.  What chutzpah.

According to an article written by Laurie Shrage in the New York Times (6.14.13), this scenario – minus the vile woman – is not uncommon.  ‘Accidental’ pregnancies happen all the time, and many women for various reasons (e.g. religious) refuse to abort.

If a man accidentally conceives a child with a woman, and does not want to raise the child with her, what are his choices? Surprisingly, he has few options in the United States. He can urge her to seek an abortion, but ultimately that decision is hers to make. Should she decide to continue the pregnancy and raise the child, and should she or our government attempt to establish him as the legal father, he can be stuck with years of child support payments.

So the man is screwed, period.  Either he unwillingly raises a child he never wanted, perhaps with a woman he barely knows; or he is forced to pay child support. A defense of men’s reproductive rights comes, surprisingly from a feminist:

The political philosopher Elizabeth Brake has argued that our policies should give men who accidentally impregnate a woman more options, and that feminists should oppose policies that make fatherhood compulsory. In a 2005 article in the Journal of Applied Philosophy she wrote, “if women’s partial responsibility for pregnancy does not obligate them to support a fetus, then men’s partial responsibility for pregnancy does not obligate them to support a resulting child.”

Looked at more carefully, however, this support is tepid and half-hearted:

Few feminists, including Brake, would grant men the right to coerce a woman to have (or not to have) an abortion, because they recognize a woman’s right to control her own body.

Fortunately a growing number of legal scholars are now questioning whether a man should be assigned legal paternity if a woman gives birth to a child without his consent. We live in a different world from that in which paternity was necessary to establish rights of inheritance, social class, or property.  Now single motherhood is increasingly common.  With continuing gender equality single women can easily support their children and do not need the protective cover of a man or his name.

So, a woman has the protection of Roe v. Wade and can have an abortion if she wants; can easily support and bring up a child on her own; and can even collect child support if she needs some supplementary income (or has a vindictive streak).  In other words, she has it all.

The author recounts the reactions of his young male students to this dilemma:

They believe that our punitive paternity policies are aimed at controlling their sexual behavior. Moreover, the asymmetrical options that men and women now have when dealing with an unplanned pregnancy set up power imbalances in their sexual relationships that my male students find hugely unfair to them

There is finally an informed discussion in the legal community about ‘coerced paternity’:

Just as court-ordered child support does not make sense when a woman goes to a sperm bank and obtains sperm from a donor who has not agreed to father the resulting child, it does not make sense when a woman is impregnated (accidentally or possibly by her choice) from sex with a partner who has not agreed to father a child with her. In consenting to sex, neither a man nor a woman gives consent to become a parent, just as in consenting to any activity, one does not consent to yield to all the accidental outcomes that might flow from that activity.

But how can the rights of men who want the child be protected? One way would be to require the biological father’s consent to abortion.  If he says yes or is nowhere to be found, no problem. If the father is around, involved, and concerned and says no, and DNA testing confirms that he is the father, then abortion would be prohibited.

However, the Supreme Court ruled that a woman has an absolute right to abortion.  If a man and a woman disagree on the fate of the fetus, the woman – again – will win out.  The only way to completely equalize reproductive rights would be to overturn Roe v. Wade.

There are many reasons to be thankful for Roe. There are thousands of unwanted pregnancies in the United States every year, and without the protection of the Supreme Court, reliable and safe abortions would become extremely rare.  Both men and women benefit from access to such high-quality medical interventions. Unfortunately rapes still occur at an alarming rate, and many assaulted women can at least know that they do not have to bear the child of their attacker.

It is probable, however, that Roe v. Wade will be overturned in the not-too-distant future. Given the many religious, philosophical, legal, and moral aspects of abortion, many critics say that it should be a matter for the electorate to decide.  Others say that they can find no Constitutional justification for the absolute right to abortion, and that the Due Process Clause (Fourteenth Amendment, Section I) simply does not stand up to judicial scrutiny.  Still other observers point to the increasingly conservative shift in the US population and that ‘family values’, abortion, and women’s and gay rights are all conflated.

One additional argument for consideration in the final debates over Roe v. Wade should be the issue of male rights and paternity, outlined above.  Does the Court decision deprive men of their rights and abridge their access to Due Process?

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