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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 Menâ€”who
has been looking for such a test case for yearsâ€”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
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
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 misogynyâ€”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.