The Volokh
Andrew Sullivan
Ann Althouse
Jeff Jarvis
Neal Boortz
James Lileks
Virginia Postrel
Inside Higher Ed
Kevin Drum
Vodka Pundit
Daniel Drezner
One Hand Clapping
Transterrestrial Musings
Borowitz Report
The Cato Institute
Independent Women's Forum
The American Enterprise Institute
Alas, a Blog
The Cobra's Nose
ENC Press
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education


> Columns > Boston Globe > The entrapments of unwanted pregnancies

The entrapments of unwanted pregnancies

By Cathy Young  |  March 20, 2006

With challenges to legal abortion in the headlines, a debate over another kind of reproductive rights has been making news as well. Earlier this month, a group called the National Center for Men filed a federal lawsuit in Michigan arguing that men should be able to decline financial responsibility for an unwanted child. The case has been dubbed "Roe v. Wade for men." While neither the plaintiff, 25-year-old Matt Dubay, nor men's rights activists who are helping him expect to prevail in court, they hope that the case will raise awareness of the issues and start a debate about male reproductive rights. And it should.

Mel Feit, director of the National Center for Men—who has been looking for such a test case for years—argues that with abortion legally available, the current situation for men violates the equal protection clause of the US Constitution. If a woman gets pregnant, she has the option to raise the child, terminate the pregnancy, or have the baby and put it up for adoption. If she wants to raise the child and asks for child support, the man has no options. Dubay is paying $500 a month to a former girlfriend who, he says, assured him she couldn't get pregnant because of a medical condition.

Men's complaints of unfairness in such cases generally find little sympathy. "If you don't want to support a child, use birth control or keep your pants zipped" is the typical response. Of course, this is uncannily similar to the arguments of abortion opponents who say that except in cases of rape, women have plenty of choices before they get pregnant: not to have sex, or to use birth control.

The "equal protection" argument is complicated by the fact that men and women are not biologically equal with regard to reproduction. Terminating an unwanted pregnancy is not only an issue of freedom from financial obligations but also of bodily autonomy, which our society has always valued more highly than property rights. Nonetheless, for a man to give up a quarter or a third of his net earnings for 21 years is no trivial burden. It means a radically altered lifestyle, including reduced opportunities to have a family if he meets a woman with whom he wants to raise children.

Feit and other advocates of "male choice" do not argue that a man should be able to abandon his offspring any time he wants. Rather, they say that a man should have a window of opportunity, after learning of the woman's pregnancy, to terminate legally his parental rights and responsibilities.

A strong counterargument is that society has a legitimate interest in ensuring that children who are already born have adequate support from both parents.

Yet a single mother is not obligated to seek child support from the father. In 1999, according to the Census Bureau, more than half of never-married mothers with young children had no legal child support award. Many of those women say they don't seek child support because they don't want the father to pay or to have any contact with the child, or because paternity has not been established. (The state cannot compel the mother to identify the father or sue him for support against her wishes, unless she seeks welfare benefits.)

Thus, a mother's choice seems to override the child's interest in having support from the father. Moreover, a single woman has the legal right to go to a sperm bank and create a child who has no chance of ever knowing his or her biological father, let alone of getting any support. No wonder some men's rights advocates feel that the system is stacked in favor of women, not children.

Sometimes, male complaints about women who get pregnant and ensnare men have strong overtones of misogyny—just as female tirades about men who cut and run easily turn to male-bashing. But not all women, and not all feminists, think alike. Feminist attorney Karen DeCrow, a former president of the National Organization for Women, has written that "autonomous women making independent decisions about their lives should not expect men to finance their choice."

One can hardly castigate men for treating an unwanted child as a burden to be avoided unless one recognizes that prochoice feminism has fostered such a mentality. Given the biological differences between the sexes, there may be no way to find a balanced approach to reproductive rights that would be equally fair to women and men. But the issues raised by Feit's lawsuit deserve consideration.



| Home | About | Blog | Columns | Feature Articles | Books | Contact | Search | Muse's Corner |