The Conley article on “men’s right to choose” was sent out on the NYU Law Students for Choice listerve yesterday, and elicited some really good responses and questions. There were two in particular that I found so interesting (and challenging) that I wanted to post them here and see what you all think. I’ll use first names so that everyone can tell who wrote what, and respond accordingly:
I am not at all arguing with a woman’s right to choose. She has it, the man does not. The decision of whether or not to have a child completely rests with the woman. What I am talking about is a corollary of this, that this right to choose whether she has the child has the effect of deciding whether or not the man becomes a father and all the legal responsibilities that go along with it, even if he does not want to be.
Some will argue that if he doesn’t want to become a father then don’t have sex or use a condom. But, that is no different than an argument an pro-life person may use against a woman who wants an abortion. The woman doesn’t have to have sex or sex with a man who doesn’t have a condom. She could also simply take the pill combined with a diaphragm. Thus, I think that argument has no weight.
This argument also isn’t about wanting to be a father or not. Its whether or not it is the right time. Just as a woman can be screwed over by having a child while she is young and in school, so can a man.
The issue simply is whether it is fair to let the woman decide for a man whether or not he takes on these responsibilities. A pregnancy can happen even with precautions. A condom does fail, woman for some reason or another can claim to be on the pill but not be. Thus, I will again emphasize the answer isn’t simply they should have taken precautions. This sometimes leads me to say not fair, if the man doesn’t want the child should be able to legally rid of responsibility if woman insists on having child he doesn’t want.
But, then I look at the other side. Any man then only needs to say I don’t want that child and he is always absolved of child responsibilities. Thus, if the reason she won’t have an abortion is religious beliefs he also has, the abortion would only be on her conscience, so she won’t get it and he knows this, but he is relieved of all responsibility. Simply, an unmarried man, or a man who decide for divorce after making his wife pregnant, would always be able to avoid liability. And that also doesn’t seem fair.
I am just wondering if there is a middle ground that creates a truly fair outcome or if there will always be such a conflict.
I think it should be true that in the petri dish world [referring to a previous comment which said something to the effect of, “A pregnant woman should have the right to abort a pregnancy if she wants to; if the man wants that zygote or fertilized egg, he can put it in a petri dish and develop it”], the woman is required to pay child support. But is that likely what Conley’s mythical ex-girlfriend would have wanted? She probably didn’t want to carry the fetus to term but ALSO, among other things, wasn’t ready to support it financially. I think my question is, should the possibility of abortion allow either parent to opt out of total responsibility for the child at a point after conception? Or, once you have conception, are you (at least) financially responsible for the resulting child until it is 18?
I could see a situation where parents could opt-out of pregnancy after conception, in that either parent could say “I would abort if it were solely up to me, but since it’s not, I choose not to support this child,” and then the other partner has a much harder choice to make. In practice, this could operate exceedingly unfairly, undermining a child support system that needs more help, not more hurt.
And to support this, you’d have to see abortion rights as more than just a right to privacy over the body, but a right to not be financially responsible to a child when you’re completely unprepared for whatever reason. Although this is not the legal right and likely never will be, it may, as a practical matter, be more in tune with the motivations of many who have abortions, or support freedom of choice…
Here’s what I think is interesting: We talk about abortion rights in terms of the right to privacy and the right to one’s own body. That is, in essence, what reproductive rights are about. But while some women have abortions as a response to pregnancy itself, many terminate pregnancies because they cannot support a child after it is born. Obviously, I don’t agree with the notion that fathers should be allowed to simply “opt out” of financial obligations to their children. But let’s say we go with the petri dish model, and the zygote is removed from the woman’s body and somehow can magically grow into a human baby. What do we do if neither parent wants responsibility for this petri dish? What if they don’t just want to forgo responsibility, but they want it not to exist? Does anyone have the right to remove the zygote or fertilized egg from the petri dish, therefore terminating its “life”?
Anyway, I think both Ben and Adam raise really interesting points that I’d love to hear responses to. It’s good to remind ourselves that this issue isn’t simple. I’d also like to ask that everyone treat Ben and Adam’s comments with respect; they’re pro-choice, and they’re bringing up some tough questions that challenge conventional pro-choice ideas in a pro-choice public forum. Plus they’re letting me post their thoughts here. So challenge away, but if you’re rude, your comments will either be edited or deleted.