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Schwartz ’15: A man’s right to choose

By
Opinions Columnist
Thursday, October 2, 2014

Let me begin by saying this is not a column about abortion. I am writing this column with the understanding that the highest court in the land has granted women the right to choose and that that right should be respected. The decision to become a parent should be just that — a decision, and not a punishment for poor judgment. From my own limited experience sitting on airplanes near crying infants, I imagine calling parenthood “a tremendous undertaking” would be a bit like calling the French Revolution “a bit of a tiff.” Every woman should have complete control over her own body and the decision whether to become a mother. That said, I think it’s worth addressing where the father figures into the picture of reproductive rights in this country.

In making the difficult decisions of how to handle an unplanned pregnancy, a woman can consider her lifestyle, her finances and her plans for the future. If one truly believes women and men should be treated equally under the law, and a woman’s right to an abortion should always be respected, there’s a nagging hypocrisy when it comes to how the nation perceives pregnancy. After conception, the father has no control over the fate of the fetus, but depending on the mother’s decision, he might be responsible for 18 years of child support. Why should a man have to pay child support for a child he doesn’t want?

Initially, this question seems a retrogressive appeal for men’s rights, a terrifying and obviously poorly considered thought exercise. But upon closer examination, granting a man equal rights to choose a parental “opt-out” option might be the key to a cultural paradigm shift that would protect abortion and reinforce a female’s right to control her own body.

In 1973, the Supreme Court made the landmark decision to rule in favor of Jane Roe, determining that the “right of privacy … is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy,” effectively offering constitutional protection to abortions. Though Roe v. Wade still retains challengers today, every woman in the United States has the constitutionally protected right to choose whether to have a child. While the decision marked a major victory for feminism in the United States, the status quo of child support legislation continues to surreptitiously undermine sexual equality by reinforcing conceptions of female dependence and asymmetric parental responsibility.

From the perspective of the medical technology available, a woman has the primary control over whether she’ll get pregnant after the sexual encounter occurs. She can take an emergency contraceptive pill, or “morning-after pill,” or make the decision to proceed with an abortion. Additionally, a wide variety of female-targeted birth control options exist, including hormone-secreting vaginal rings and a daily birth control pill, with the generic available for free under President Obama’s health insurance plan. In an ideal world, every pregnancy brought to term would be a choice made by the woman.

Imagine a scenario in which a man wanted to keep a baby and the woman did not. Even if the man opposed abortion on religious grounds, if the woman did not feel financially or emotionally ready for motherhood, the father would not be able to force her to carry the fetus to term. A woman is in full control of the decision to have an abortion, a right protected by the Supreme Court, and justifiably: A parasite is growing in her uterus for nine months. Biologically, pregnancy is a burden on the mother. But after the baby is born, the father holds equal responsibility for the baby’s finances, even if he would have made the decision to terminate the pregnancy. Abortions don’t require both chromosome donors present to give permission to proceed, but the 18 years of child-rearing require responsibility from both parties.

Though the exact legal details of my fictitious legislation need to be adequately addressed, a man should be able to present “opt-out” papers to the woman within the first trimester, while abortion is still a viable option. In doing so, he would formally acknowledge that (a) he would choose to terminate the pregnancy, (b) he would be willing to pay for half of the abortion procedure and (c) he relinquishes all parental rights.

If you’re outraged by my proposal so far, you should be. You should already be drafting your comment about how most women today still don’t have access to adequate birth control options and states continue to encroach on a woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy. Many states are passing legislation in a backhanded attempt to prevent legal abortions from occurring without explicitly defying the Supreme Court’s ruling. Why should men be given an “out” when women still don’t have full control over their bodies?

These impedimentary procedures represent a disturbing trend of states enforcing de facto anti-abortion policies. If abortion and birth control are not realistic and readily available options for women, then the “opt-out” for men loses all its meaning.

In a law that permits men to escape child support through a metaphorical “paperwork abortion,” medical abortion would need to be simultaneously safeguarded. The fact that a woman doesn’t require permission from the fetus’s father indicates that the United States has already established that a woman is in control of a pregnancy in legal terms. Reducing the number of unwanted infants will ultimately promote social mobility and quality child support for the babies that do come to term. A woman should have complete control over the tremendous decision to become a mother, but both genders will benefit if we imagine that maybe, men can have a right to choose, too.

 

 

Dana Schwartz ’15 realizes she’s just asking for a good argument. Email dana_schwartz@brown.edu or tweet @DanaJSchwartz7.

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  1. TheRationale says:

    This is interesting…

  2. the phoenix rabbit says:

    MEAN COMMENT!!

  3. “The fact that a woman doesn’t require permission from the fetus’s father indicates that the United States has already established that a woman is in control of a pregnancy in legal terms.”

    Well, she still needs consent from a doctor, sometimes a judge. So no, a woman is generally not in control of her pregnancy in the United States, especially depending on what state you’re in.

    “If abortion and birth control are not realistic and readily available options for women, then the “opt-out” for men loses all its meaning.”

    And right now abortion and birth control are not easily accessible or pragmatically available for women in several states, so maybe let’s start there and then worry about giving men a right to choose.

  4. While provocative and well-considered, Dana’s piece forgets a key stakeholder — the child. When a mans “opts out” there’s still a child to care for, and the law puts the interests of that child first by compelling child support.

    And before you say “but government can pay!” explain where you’re going to find tens of billions of dollars to pay child support for deadbeat dads.

  5. I know this article is rather old, but I’d like to remind the readers that quire recently there was a story where a woman in California became pregnant, the father opted out, she moved to New York for school and had her child.. then he got married to another woman, and a judge took the child from the woman, and gave it to the man and his new wife. Apparently, even though he opted out and wanted nothing to do with her or her child, she had no right to leave the state..

    It seem that the only ways MOST men “participate” is either by abandoning the woman and the child, or by trying to take complete control of the child away from the woman…

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