Is Forced Fatherhood Fair? (NYTimes Op/Ed)
Women’s rights advocates have long struggled for motherhood to be a voluntary condition, and not one imposed by nature or culture. In places where women and girls have access to affordable and safe contraception and abortion services, and where there are programs to assist mothers in distress find foster or adoptive parents, voluntary motherhood is basically a reality. In many states, infant safe haven laws allow a birth mother to walk away from her newborn baby if she leaves it unharmed at a designated facility.
If a man accidentally conceives a child with a woman, and does not want to raise the child with her, what are his choices?Do men now have less reproductive autonomy than women? Should men have more control over when and how they become parents, as many women now do?The legal scholar Jane Murphy has argued that a new definition of fatherhood is emerging in our laws and court decisions which privileges a man’s biological tie to a child over other criteria. In a 2005 article in the Notre Dame Law Review, Murphy wrote about paternity “disestablishment” cases in which men who have assumed the father role in a child’s life seek genetic testing to avoid the obligations of legal fatherhood, typically when they break up with the child’s mother.Furthermore, Murphy explains how the new definition of ‘fatherhood’ is driven by the government’s goal of collecting child support from men whose biological offspring are in the welfare system, as well as lawsuits from men aiming to avoid financial responsibility for their dependents.Feminists have long held that women should not be penalized for being sexually active by taking away their options when an accidental pregnancy occurs. Do our policies now aim to punish and shame men for their sexual promiscuity?
Rather than punish men (or women) for their apparent reproductive irresponsibility by coercing legal paternity (or maternity), the government has other options, such as mandatory sex education, family planning counseling, or community service.The author Laurie Shrage is a professor of philosophy and women’s and gender studies at Florida International University.In consenting to sex, neither a man nor a woman gives consent to become a parent, just as in consenting to any activity, one does not consent to yield to all the accidental outcomes that might flow from that activity.
I would love to hear this community's thoughts on this article and your responses. Please discuss.