As I’ve written before, I think there’s an awful lot of bullshit spouted by both sides of the abortion debate – but there’s also a glaring omission.
In all this talk of a “woman’s right to choose,” and “reproductive rights,” we seem to gloss over what contributes at least 50% to the abortion issue – fathers. Because barring the Virgin Mary, no woman gets pregnant without a man being involved. So where do men fit into the abortion debate?
In many countries, especially more religiously conservative ones, women are required to have permission of the father to have an abortion performed – but not in the United States.
Ever since Roe vs. Wade secured a woman’s right to have an abortion, the courts have ruled that any attempt to require a paternal notification or consent prior to an abortion is unconstitutional – paternal consent getting the axe in 1976’s Planned Parenthood vs. Danforth, and spousal notification in 1992’s Planned Parenthood vs. Casey.
Which essentially means that any woman – whether she’s a frightened teenager or a married mother of five – can go to a clinic and have her pregnancy terminated without the father having any say in the matter, or, in many cases, being aware of the pregnancy at all.
In some ways, this makes a lot of sense. After all, it’s a pregnant woman who will have to bear the physical burden of pregnancy and childbirth, and the one who will most often be physically, emotionally and financially responsible for a baby growing up.
In fact, I have a number of friends who are single mothers, and they dismiss their children’s fathers as nothing more than “sperm donors.” They would argue that these men should have no right to influence whether or not they had their babies, since after the children were born, most of these “sperm donors” have singularly failed to live up to their paternal responsibilities.
But a growing number of “father’s rights” advocates argue the opposite – claiming that the way the law treats abortions is disgustingly biased against men – and some of their arguments make an awful lot of sense.
Armin Brott, a claimed ‘parenting authority,’ points out that men have no rights in law to pressure a woman to carry a pregnancy to term, or have it terminated, which means “a woman can legally deprive a man of his right to become a parent, or force him to become one against his will.”
This is significant because the law generally holds men at least partly responsible for any children they father, forcing them to pay child support for upwards of twenty years.
While a woman has the “right to choose” whether or not to shoulder the burdens (and rewards) of parenthood, a man has that decision made for him. A woman can terminate her pregnancy even if the father wants to keep the baby, or force him to pay child support for years to come even if he isn’t ready to become a father quite yet.
And frankly, this isn’t fair.
It’s even led to the absurd situation of male rape victims being forced, by law, to pay child support to their abusers. Victims of statutory rape in California, Kansas and Colorado have been ordered by the courts to pay child support for children they did not consent to father. In Colorado, the “deadbeat dad” being chased for child support was just 12 years old when he became a parent!
On the other side of the equation, there are men who are eager to become fathers, but who have that opportunity taken away from them by the woman bearing their child.
I personally know of one couple who divorced after the husband discovered that his wife had secretly undergone not one, but two terminations during their time together because despite his enthusiasm to become a father, she was having misgivings about their future together and didn’t want to make the commitment of parenthood.
The fact is, it takes two people to make a pregnancy, so it seems absurd that the law only recognizes the rights of one person to decide the fate of that pregnancy. It’s quite untenable, totally sexist, and morally indefensible.
But what’s the solution?
All across America, conservatives are trying to restrict a woman’s right to have an abortion, and bringing in the thorny issue of paternal consent would be a powerful weapon to support their bigoted agenda. The time frame for a woman to safely and legally perform an abortion is already frighteningly short. Throw in the challenge of getting a father’s explicit consent beforehand, and it could add days or weeks to the time frame – easily long enough for a woman to no longer be eligible for a termination, which is presumably the pro-life lobby’s true intention.
Instead of supporting a father’s rights, demanding paternal consent would be more likely to drive women to have an unsafe, illegal abortion somewhere where a father’s consent is irrelevant, which is exactly the opposite of what we should be aiming for.
There’s another horrible scenario the issue of paternal consent creates, and it mirrors how female rapists can force their male victims to pay child support.
Conservatives already oppose abortion in the case of rape or incest. What if the criminal males responsible for fathering a child through a criminal act were then empowered, by law, to force their victims to carry their children to term?
But as valid as these arguments are, they don’t diminish the fact that America’s current attitude towards abortion rights is horribly sexist and inequitable, and thousands of men are getting screwed by it as a result.
If the pro-choice movement continues to demand “a woman’s right to choose” whether to be a mother or not, it’s long overdue that they offer men the same privilege.
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