Cathy Young has a very long, very well written piece in Salon.Com about an idea originally propounded by the men’s rights movement that is likely to be tested in courts within the decade — do men have unequal rights when it comes to issue of abortion that should be solved via a legal remedy?
The basic argument simply turns pro-choice argument on its head. If women should be able to have control over entering in to parental obligations, why not men as well? The idea seems inane at first, but most of the arguments against it, in one way or another, rely on claims that abortion rights activists already say are preposterous when used by pro-lifers. Typically feminists reply that if men don’t want to have to pay child support they should keep their pants on, which is a crude version of an early argument against abortion — if women don’t want to get pregnant, they shouldn’t sleep around. As Young notes, there is a “willingness to liberate women but not men from the unwanted consequences of sex…”
Young quotes from a Planned Parenthood pamphlet, “9 Reasons Why Abortions Are Legal,” which says, in part,
At the most basic level, the abortion issue is not really about abortion. … Should women make their own decisions about family, career and how to live their lives? Or should government do that for them? Do women have the option of deciding when or whether to have children?
Young essentially wants to know that if they are serious about the rhetoric, why shouldn’t men have the same opportunities. And if not, why not?
Most people of the folks who support the so-called men’s right to choose typically have some scheme whereby either parent is able to forego parental obligations — women can obviously abort a fetus as a remedy, and typically the remedy for men would be to renounce parental obligations during the pregnancy.
Does this sort of thinking make sense? Up to a point there are some important insights to be taken away from this sort of argument, but ultimately it has no chance of being accepted by courts and is suspect morally. The problem for feminists, however, is that the reason most people will find the men’s right to choose arguments fallacious is the persistent sexual stereotypes which see men as economic providers for children. The idea of father simply being able to renounce their parental obligations is probably revolting non-feminists and feminists alike (who, when contemplating it, might get a hint of how pro-lifers feel about the idea of a woman being able to abort a fetus) largely because of expectations society has of fathers.
Personally I think that’s, on balance, a very good thing. Besides technological solutions on the horizon such as the male birth control pill are likely to put men and women on more equal technological footing when it comes to controlling reproduction, and a massive change of the sort proposed by those advocating for a man’s right to choose would be a very bad idea.
On the other hand there is a subset of cases of forced fatherhood which Young cites which probably does deserve additional looking into. Namely, how should the law handle the responsibilities of a man when he is forced into being a father thanks to nonconsensual sexual activity?
Young finds a couple of doozies that are stunning. In one case a woman seeking to get pregnant took advantage of a male co-worker who had passed out drunk at a party, and subsequently bragged to friends that she saved a trip to the sperm bank. In another, a woman had oral sex with a man and requested he use a condom. Afterward, unbeknownst to him, she used a syringe to retrieve semen and inseminate herself. In both cases, the mothers sued for and won child support payments from the involuntary father.
And of course there was a much-reported case of a woman convicted of statutory rape for having sex with a 12 year-old. Even though the state concurred that this was in fact a criminal sexual act, the young boy was forced to pay child support when he was 18.
Some sort of legal remedy is in order for those sorts of bizarre cases, but otherwise dramatic legal changes in the way parental obligations are established would be a very bad idea.
A man’s right to choose. Cathy Young, Salon.Com, October 19, 2000.