You hear the word, but you can hardly believe it. Pregnant.
A hundred different thoughts race through your head as you think back to when it could have happened, how it could have happened, why the precautions you took didn't work. The enormity of it hits you all of a sudden - you haven't had time to think about whether you want a baby or not, whether you're ready for the responsibility, whether you can afford it, whether you think you have what it takes to raise a child. Everything about the prospect of this new little life scares the hell out of you, and since you and your partner never discussed having a child together you don't know if the two of you are ready for such a commitment. After giving it a lot of thought you come to the realization that you simply aren't ready for this.
Maybe later, maybe when you have a more stable relationship or a more stable job, maybe when you're older and have had a chance to live a little, maybe when you've met that one person you will really want to have a baby with. Maybe never, maybe parenthood is not part of your life plan. Whatever the case, you understand better than any outsider that this is not the right time to bring a child into the world. As difficult and as emotional as the decision is, you believe that it would be best to terminate the pregnancy.
But you discover, quite quickly, that this is not an option. You feel helpless, suddenly overwhelmed with the knowledge that you are going to have to raise this child whether you want to or not. This is your child, the laws of your society trumpet down at you. You had sex, you must now live with the consequences. And we're going to make sure you live with those consequences - for the next eighteen years, at least.
But this isn't right, you protest. Surely you can't be forced to have a child you can't support and don't want. Surely no lawmaker has the right to dictate whether you reproduce or not. This is a personal decision, in a free country you are perfectly within your rights to make your own decisions about having children, regardless of accidental pregnancy? Right?
Wrong. You had sex, the chorus of disapproval shouts. Live with it. You shouldn't have had sex if you didn't want to have a child, it's as simple as that...
Think this scenario is some sort of nightmare, some hypothetical world that doesn't exist thanks to decisions like Roe v Wade, some future hell that might come about if George W. gets his way? Think again. It does exist. If you happen to be a man in North America today, it is about as real as it gets.
For anyone who still likes to believe that it is a man's world and that men have all the advantages, consider this: through nature and through the interventions of his fellow man, men today have absolutely no reproductive rights. They are completely at the mercy of women, many of whom have long since decided that their own needs and wishes come first and that since all men are bastards anyway, men ought to be made suffer through the only kind of fraud, coercion and extortion that our society actively encourages and financially rewards. Whether these men are the victim of fortune hunters, whether they were spotted as sperm donors by a baby-crazy woman, whether they're players who wanted to absolve themselves of parenthood, the end result is the same - whatever the situation, whatever the circumstances, whatever the excuse, the courts don't want to hear it. If you're a father, you have to pay. No exceptions, no consideration for your wishes, no mercy. Pay up.
Which is absurdly unfair, considering that men have little or no control over whether they become fathers or not.
Men have never had it easy when it comes to their reproductive lives, since nature has seen to it that men have no absolute right to fatherhood. There isn't a man alive who can legally or morally force a woman to carry his child, as it should be, and so if a man is unlucky enough to go his whole life without meeting someone willing to have his baby, he will die childless whether he wants to or not. (It would appear that the same is true for women, however reality shows us it is not. Single women routinely have children via artificial insemination from anonymous donors or from casual encounters and rarely, if ever, feel as though their ability to have a child hinges on a man's willingness to impregnate them.) Nature has dealt men this blow by giving women the lion's share - though certainly not all - of the reproductive process. This is a fact of reality that is neither fair or unfair, it simply is, and no one has ever suggested we do anything to change it.
But now men face an even greater injustice. Now men have no right to refuse parenthood if they choose, a right which was granted to women long ago. They are completely at the mercy of women unless they choose to remain celibate, something, incidentally, that no one would dare suggest to women who don't want children. If men don't remain celibate, every time they have sex they could be committing themselves to parenthood despite precautions, promises or pleas for understanding, and there is nothing they can do to stop it.
The contradictions in the way both the law and our society view men and women's reproductive rights is so blatantly unfair and biased in favor of women that it is truly astonishing the laws haven't been struck down before now. There is great inequality here, usually based on the groundless argument that because a woman carries and delivers a child, she is somehow the only one affected by it and the only one whose wishes or desires matter. This is absurd. A man's relatively small biological contribution to the conception and birth of another human being in no way detracts from the importance of it, or from the idea that he should have as much right to determine whether or not he wishes to be a parent as the mother has. Far more important than who carries the child is the fundamental issue of a person's right to decide whether they want to reproduce - anyone, man or woman, who makes the decision not to must have that choice respected under the law.
But there is another reason that men are forced to support children they don't want. Jurisprudence on the subject reveals this common theme among judges - the child's welfare must be of primary importance when discussing these matters, taking precedence over everything else including the wishes of the father or whether his rights were violated. So, in other words, the baby is more important than you are, and its needs supercede any choice you might want to make....but only if you're a man. If you're a woman, well then all bets are off. Imagine some judge now saying that since the "child's welfare must be of primary importance", and since it is never in the best interests of the child to be aborted, the child takes precedence over everything else, including the wishes of the mother, so abortion is out of the question. Imagine the storm of protests and the chants of "freedom of choice" that would echo throughout the nation. Freedom of choice, it seems, is only a concern when it comes to women. Men, our society strives to ensure, have no choice at all.
This may seem outrageous to most people, this idea that men are categorically victimized by our family court systems. It hardly seems possible in our "free" society that any man who fathers a child, even without his consent, even having been lied to about the possibility of pregnancy, even without having had intercourse with the mother is legally obligated not only to see that child brought into the world, he also has the responsibility of paying for it for the next eighteen years. Since a man has no right to seek an abortion or to stop one, it hardly seems possible that we would further strip him of his choices in life by then holding him hostage to the whim of a woman, who has who has every advantage where he has none, has every protection under the law that he does not, and every moral justification for going so far as to kill an unborn child that she doesn't want while his desire to merely not pay for such a child is seen as some outrageous and hideous sin. But in every state, in every province, and in just about every other country in the world, men are consistently, ridiculously, even absurdly punished for being men.
* A man who engages in sex is presumed to have understood the consequences, since no birth control method is 100% effective. Therefore, if he has sex, he ought to be prepared to bring a child into the world. He cannot refuse parenthood once a child is conceived, since he should have taken care not to conceive a child if he couldn't support it or didn't want it. The state affords him no rights in these matters at all, and leaves all the decisions in the hand of the other parent. Case law on this subject is too numerous to list, but judges have consistently struck down a father's claim of a Fourteenth Amendment right to privacy, based solely on the idea that if he wasn't prepared to be a father, he shouldn't have had sex.
A woman who engages in sex, and who is presumed to have understood the consequences since no birth control is 100% effective, has the right afforded by Roe. v. Wade and many similar laws in other countries to completely absolve herself of responsibility for her child and kill it on demand. She has the right to refuse parenthood, and is never admonished that she should have taken care not to conceive a child if she couldn't support or didn't want it.
* A woman who has sex with a man who tells her he loves her or wants to marry her but abandons her once pregnancy results has the full option of either aborting the child or else carrying it to term and having the court enforce mandatory child support on him, since she was lied to and deceived and has every right to be outraged that she was used in such a way. The same is true if a man tells a woman that he is infertile. In fact, up until very recently, the courts afforded women the right to sue fiances who abandoned them for "breach of promise", even if there was no pregnancy involved, since the courts held that the promises made between a couple in the privacy of their relationship were subject to litigation if the man didn't keep that promise.
A man who does not want to have children, who tells this to his partner before they have sex, and who is assured by his partner that she is either on the Pill or infertile in some other way, is still held completely liable for full child support for eighteen years regardless of the fact that he was lied to and deceived. In Stephen K. v. Roni L., 105 Cal. App. 3d 640, 164 Cal. Rptr. 2d 618 (1980), the court conveniently decided to disregard the assertions of a man whose partner lied to him in order to conceive, saying that it would not interfere in the "promises made between the parties in the bedroom concerning their private sexual conduct." The court added further that he should have taken better contraceptive precautions "regardless of the representations made to him"
* A woman who is raped, or a woman who has sex while impaired and therefore unable to give consent, or a minor girl who is considered by law to be unable to give consent and is therefore statutorily raped, has full recourse to abortion. She is encouraged to abort the pregnancy because she was violated; no one expects her to become a parent to a child that was forced upon her or one that she conceived when she was too young to understand the consequences of her actions.
A minor boy, considered by law to be unable to give consent to anything, who is statutorily raped by an older woman whom he inadvertently impregnates, is, thanks to the decision of a judge (in State of Kansas, ex rel., Colleen Hermesmann, Appellee, v. Shane Seyer, a minor, and Dan and Mary Seyer, his parents, Appellants. No. 67,978. Supreme Court of Kansas. March 5, 1993.) completely and utterly responsible for the financial well being of the resulting child until that child turns eighteen, regardless of the fact that the child resulted due to his having been violated. The judge in this case declared "The issue of consent to sexual activity under the criminal statutes is irrelevant in a civil action to determine paternity and for support of a minor child born of such activity." (emphasis mine)
Even if a man doesn't even have intercourse with a woman, but agrees to receive oral sex from her after which she inseminates herself with the contents of the condom, completely unbeknownst to him, he is still made to pay child support for the resulting baby, as the court ruled in State of Louisiana v. Frisard, 694 So. 2d 1032 (La. Ct. App. 1997). The court decided that even the vaguest sexual conduct between two people that might in any conceivable way result in a woman getting hold of enough sperm to inseminate herself makes the unfortunate man liable for child support. In other cases the courts have even dismissed claims of "theft" of sperm, and so it's not outside the realm of possibility that some health professional somewhere could extract semen from a sedated patient, impregnate herself and then sue him for child support. Yet a woman who finds herself accidentally and unhappily pregnant due to sexual activity other than intercourse has every right to terminate that pregnancy, without even informing the father.
I should add that in each of the above examples, there was no need for me to justify why a woman didn't want her child. She has merely to ask for an abortion, and need never explain herself to anyone. Men have parenthood forced on them because they "had sex", underage boys have to go to court to try to prevent themselves from becoming parents, men who were lied to or who, in some cases, helped conceive a child while they were impaired and therefore couldn't give adequate consent, have to go to court to try to prevent the next twenty years of their life being mortgaged - but women need only phone up the clinic and take care of it after work. Consequence-free sex is alive and well, but only if you're a woman.
Whatever each person's private feelings about abortion, however, there is no question that it should be left up to the individual's discretion, since it is an entirely personal and individual decision. No one else can presume to tell a woman she has to have a child just because one was conceived - to do so would violate her basic right to live her own life. All any of us should be concerned about, politically, is that the same consideration be given to men as well.
Some advocates of equal reproductive rights for men have wrangled with the issue of how to deal with a man's responsibility towards the children he fathers while still respecting his right to choice. Some endorse the idea that only married men should be legally responsible for their children, which, they feel, would force women to think more carefully about having a child with someone they weren't married to. But if we're going to approach this subject on the basis of equality, it bears remembering that marriage is no barrier to abortion - any married woman can abort her child without her husband's consent or knowledge, even if he desperately wants her to keep the child. (I should also mention, incidentally, that in many US states, a man needs his wife's permission to have a vasectomy, whereas a woman doesn't even need her husband's permission to abort his child - yet another in a long, mind-boggling list of inequities in our justice system.) Given this, we cannot force fatherhood on married men any more than we can force motherhood on married women.
I offer instead this proposal: Women will still be afforded the right to an abortion if they choose, without the father's consent, which is still the only way to ensure that a woman is never forced to use her body against her will - it is not entirely fair, since the father has no recourse if he wants to keep the child, but since nature has not provided him with any other way of reproducing and he cannot be allowed to violate another person's rights to do so, this is one inequity that must stand.
When a woman conceives a child and plans to keep it, however, she ought to be obligated to inform the father and present him with the opportunity to either accept fatherhood or refuse it. A simple agreement could be drawn up, much like filling out the form for a marriage license, which both parents-to-be sign attesting to their willingness to bear the legal and financial responsibility for raising this child (which would also work well for the rare instances when a mother wants no part of the child she bears, like surrogate mothers and women who are willing to have a man's baby but do not want to help raise it - such women would simply not sign the agreement). If a couple willingly conceives, or if both parents are surprised by the pregnancy but willing to raise the child together anyway, the agreement would be a mere formality, again, much like signing a marriage license.
But if a man, married or not, has real objections to fatherhood and does not want to raise the child, he has the option of not signing the agreement. This is the crucial point - a man does not have to sign the agreement, and if he does not sign it, he is under no legal or moral obligation to either the mother or the child. Again, those who would condemn these men as callous and cold hearted for not wanting the children they conceive should try giving that speech to the women in any abortion clinic waiting room sometime and see how far they get.
Some may argue that this kind of thing would pave the way for all sorts of irresponsible behavior, that without legal censure men would impregnate all sorts of women and then opt not to support them. But my point is this - this proposal would encourage women to take care in their choice of lovers and only choose men of character, which, I grant, is an unpopular idea in our Cosmo culture that advocates as much casual and meaningless sex as possible. At the very least it would make women think more carefully about the reliability of their birth control. The bottom line is that it would return maturity and responsibility to the sexual arena, where it has been decidedly absent for some time.
In any case, women would always have the option of not proceeding with the pregnancy if they did find themselves pregnant by some cad whose character changed as soon as the pregnancy test window did. No one would be forced to bear or raise an unwanted child and care for it by herself, a protection that women currently have. If a woman is sexually irresponsible, however, and conceives a child with a stranger or with one of many lovers, since no man can be identified then no man can sign the agreement, and no man will find himself supporting her child if she chooses to keep it. Even if such a woman pursues DNA testing to determine the father's identity, he still maintains the right to refuse fatherhood if he chooses. In that scenario, the woman is still free to have her baby if she likes, but she must do so with the full knowledge that she can expect no support from the father. In every example, no one's choices are taken away - each person, each parent, is merely made to face the consequences of them, which is what adulthood usually requires of us anyway.
Having a signed parental agreement would actually benefit more people than it would harm. If someone signs the agreement and then later in life, after a divorce, for example, or a simple change of heart, decides that he or she (although the relative rarity of women abandoning their children after they're born makes this agreement far more applicable to men than women) no longer wants the financial or emotional responsibility of parenthood, the other parent has legal recourse to sue him or her for child support on the grounds that he or she breached their contract. The custodial parent would not be able to litigate the other parent into loving the child or being there as a mother or father, but at least neither the custodial parent nor their child would suffer financially because the other changed his or her mind. Perhaps it would remind everyone that as serious a commitment as marriage is, having a child is a much, much bigger one, and something that no one should enter into - or expect to get out of - lightly. At the very minimum, if a man who violated his parental agreement were to be sued successfully for child support, he would at least be paying for violating something he consciously and willingly promised he would do, not for something that was beyond his control or against his will or without his knowledge, as is currently so often the case.
And as for underage parents, there is no reason that I can see why people who are old enough to bear and raise children are not also old enough to sign legal documents attesting to the choice they've made - continuing to believe that they aren't is what's helping to keep the country in a perpetual state of adolescence, even while those very adolescents are often parents of pre-schoolers before they reach twenty-one.
There will be those who maintain that this kind of arrangement would place a drain on the welfare system, and that if we don't make fathers pay for their offspring then all of us will have to pay for them. I don't agree with welfare, but in extreme circumstances wherein, for example, a responsible couple does their best to support their family but one of the parents dies or is somehow physically unable to provide support, I can understand the kind of benevolent generosity of a "leg up" that temporary welfare might provide. I don't, however, believe that welfare benefits should be extended to anyone, man or woman, who cannot support themselves but consciously has children anyway, thinking that the government has some duty to support them when they themselves won't. If women without income or support knew that, starting now, they wouldn't receive a penny from the government if they got pregnant and chose to have their baby, and that the father of their child couldn't be forced to provide for them against his will, I predict the birth rate in that category would plummet dramatically. This would be the best, most reliable, most conscientiously and scrupulously followed birth control available, and while it wouldn't be applied retroactively to women who have already had children irresponsibly, it would work wonders as a preventative measure to all those women who think they can get pregnant on a whim and live off the state for doing so.
Of course there are some activists out there who are politically opposed to abortion and would argue that a woman shouldn't have to abort her child if it goes against her principles. It's better, they feel, to completely shackle the baby's father for the next twenty years and considerably damage his quality of life. Aside from the fact that this proposal in no way forces anyone to have abortion - she must simply raise the baby on her own if the father doesn't agree to fatherhood - the answer to this centers around the idea that grown adults should be much more aware of the consequences of their choices. If a woman is dead set against abortion, she ought to seriously consider having sex with any man whom she does not know for certain would willingly help her with the child. To do anything otherwise, to have sex irresponsibly and then decide that your "principles" give you sanction to ruin that person's life, is hardly what one would consider 'pro-life'.
Women do have more to lose by getting pregnant than men do, they are the ones that have a more difficult time grappling with the decision to abort or to carry their child to term and raise her. This is particularly why women must be that much more selective and considered before they conceive, for their own sake and for that of their child. It does not, however, give them license to make men suffer, or to deprive men of the very rights that they themselves have fought so hard to achieve.
There is a bedrock, bottom line foundation to all the above: no matter how many scenarios you can dream up or how many horror stories you can find to dismiss this idea, the fundamental truth that has to be protected is that men have just as much freedom, just as many rights, and just as much choice as women do. No law or policy that ignores this, or that grants privileges to one parent at the expense of the other, should ever be enacted or enforced, because to do so violates the most primary right we have, the right to our own bodies and to our own lives. It's a shame that after all the years of enlightenment and progress for equal rights, the biggest hurdle we still face lies in reminding women that men have bodies and lives too.
Click here for an article by a woman who regrets forcing her daughter's dad into fatherhood.