The issue of reproductive rights is, no doubt, one of the most important issues that any society deliberates. The decision to reproduce, with whom, when, and under what circumstances is, by far, the most important decision that any individual will make in their lifetime. Because of this human beings have, in every society, developed social conventions, laws, contraception, fertility control methods and medical procedures to both enable individuals to exercise control of and hold them responsible for their reproductive decisions. Since we are a diecious species the division of rights and responsibilities between genders is of tantamount importance and should be done so in an equitable manner if we are to value gender equality.
Yet one thing is certain: Women currently have total control l over their reproduction and exercise the right whether or not to assume whatever degree of parental responsibility they choose both before and after child birth. Men, on the other hand, have very little control over their reproduction and are held completely responsible for the choices women make as far as becoming a parent is concerned. There are those who would argue that this has largely been the case for most of civilized history and that it is only right and good. But this is not so.
As pointed out in a previous article, “The Real Reason We Do Not Have a Male Pill” the paradigm of reproduction before the advent of birth control and abortion was drastically different than what it is now. If a woman were to reproduce she had to do four things that were crucial for her well being and that of her offspring. These were:
- Find a man who was able to assume the parental role of father
- Find a man who was willing to assume the parental role of father
- Make it worth said man’s while to take on the parental role of father of her child
- Do something to make said man feel assured that the child/ren she were to present to him were in fact his through chastity before their relationship, fidelity during the relationship or through flat out lying about who the real father was
If a woman failed to do these things and chose to have sex with a man, thus causing a pregnancy, (and make no mistake, I am talking about adult women who know where babies come from-not children) without doing these things then she would put herself and her offspring in a very precarious position. Likewise a man who wanted to become a father had to make decisions converse to the decisions a women would have to make such as carefully observing the woman’s behavior as far as fidelity, assessing her motherly attributes and demonstrating his ability to assume the role of father to her child. Parental responsibilities were divided along the lines of care giver and home maker for the women and provider and protector for the man. These roles and responsibilities where never the result of social constructs such as “patriarchy” or “male privilege” or “gender stereotypes.” Rather, they were deeply rooted in biology and the fact that they are ubiquitous throughout history and across all cultures proves this. This division of labor between men and women who chose to have children has resulted in many generations of healthy, happy children and the recognition of the responsibilities and rights of both parents is responsible for all of civilization as we know it.
Let us return to the state of reproductive rights and responsibilities as they stand today.
Currently, in addition to abstinence, women have virtually total control over if and when they become pregnant as well as with whom. Furthermore, any woman can, without the permission of the father, terminate a pregnancy after conception on demand and for any reason no matter what the relationship with the father. If she is not wed and decides to bring the pregnancy to term she can decide to keep the child or she can very easily give the child up for adoption without even having to notify the father. If she does decide to keep the child she can make the father a wage slave for the next eighteen years even if the father was lied to about her fertility status or the father was the victim of statutory rape. Furthermore, the father’s right to parent his child by being part of the child’s life and instilling his values as well as protecting the child from harm and the ability to simply see and share affection with his child is based in most part on the goodwill of the mother.
This is not good for children, and it is not only unfair, but underscores an incredibly inhumane set of circumstances that a particular group of much maligned people in our society are subject to-fathers.
Consider the fact that an astounding number of children, currently around 40% of all newborns in the U.S., are born out of wedlock to women, over 50% of whom, have never even lived with the fathers of their children. Also consider that 25% of all children in the U.S. are living off of food stamps. Consider again that fatherless children are susceptible to a wide array of physical, mental and social ills that include much higher rates of mortality in youth, morbidity in youth, mental illness, delinquency, criminality, addiction and incarceration-just to name a few. What is unnamed in that list and what is indeed incalculable is the denial of a set of needs children have which cannot be fulfilled by mothers alone. The need for someone to make you feel safe, the need for guidance and conditioning while developing into adulthood and advice throughout young adulthood and beyond-crucial advice. Perhaps most importantly is the need for a child to have a man-a father- hold their hand or comfort them when they are crying or to hear his voice say things like “I know you can do it”, “I am very proud of you” or simply “I love you”.
Family Planning services and the discussion surrounding family planning is all but entirely gynocentric. No one who believes in family planning services like contraception and abortion would deny that they are crucial to happy healthy children being born to mothers who are ready and willing to have children. Indeed, the proponents of these services sell the idea of family planning to politicians and the public in these terms. What is never mentioned, or even considered, are the familial planning needs of men and male reproductive agency. It is as if these things didn’t even exist, or even if they did, that they would be antithetical to the entire idea of family planning itself.
Is it really dangerous to give men equal consideration in family planning and give them the same power to make decisions as to when and with whom they become parents? Is it really dangerous to allow men to have complete control over whether or not they become parents at all? As to the last question, keep in mind that men do not have complete control as to when they become parents. As noted above any woman can lie about her fertility status and, despite what many would have you believe, far too many women do just this in order to drag men into parenthood who are not ready or willing to become parents.
Think about it, do you really believe that every one of these single mothers by choice were completely honest about their fertility status? Do you really think that married couples who ostensibly didn’t want that third child simply had a “happy little accident” just like mommy said? We also need to ask if this is good for children. Is it ok to force a man to finance a child that he cannot afford? Is it good for children that men who do not want children simply because they don’t really care to have them be forced into the parental role of father to a child that they didn’t want?
Whenever a woman forces a man into fatherhood when he is not ready or willing and negative results occur it is he alone who is blamed. When he complains that he was tricked or wasn’t ready we always hear something along the lines of “you have the right to wear a condom” or “keep it in your pants.” Do women not have condoms? Do they not have diaphragms? Do they not have a whole arsenal of devices, pharmaceutical products and methods including “keeping their panties on” to prevent a pregnancy? Is it not extremely bigoted to tell men these things when they are forced into parenthood and complain about it? Are not men truly far more susceptible to forced (coerced) reproduction then women are? Can we honestly say that any woman can be coerced into being a parent when they have all of these fertility control options as well as the option of abortion and the ability to put the child up for adoption after birth? Amazingly, mothers even have the ability to abandon their children even up to the age of 14 under the safe haven laws.
Why is it that when we talk about reproduction we see women as having rights and no responsibilities and men as having no rights and all of the responsibilities?
This is clearly a big problem and the differential between rights and responsibilities between genders is the primary cause of fatherlessness in our society. This has been argued by many men who support the idea of male reproductive rights. The resistance to the idea of male reproductive rights, however, is intense and most see the problem as insoluble or the very idea of male reproductive rights as esoteric. But the problem of male reproductive rights is neither insoluble nor esoteric. There is nothing esoteric about a boy aged 14 who is forced to pay child support to his rapist and there is nothing insoluble about the problem of forcing men to become parents when Roe V. Wade clearly states that the imposition of parenthood is too much power for the state to hold.
Clearly something needs to be done.
There are two popular ideas that Lawyers and Men’s Rights advocates tout concerning male reproductive rights. One proposal is to have a window of time in which a man gets to choose whether or not to assume the responsibilities for and assert the rights to his child that is contemporaneous to the period of time a woman can have an abortion. Another proposal is that, after the birth of a child, a man should be able to bring to court a case in which he can establish, by some standard of evidence, that he was misled by the mother who misrepresented her fertility status.
Both of these proposals are problematic. The window of time proposal makes the outcome of a case in which a mother does not inform the father of the pregnancy ambiguous. Would he be required to pay child support if only after the birth she decided to announce that he was a father? Could he assert his rights as a father if the mother did not want to have him in the child’s life? How can he prove that he was lied to about the mother’s fertility status if an “unwanted” pregnancy occurs? Are verbal contracts binding in such instances? Clearly establishing fault on the mother’s part would be difficult and litigation would be expensive. Could a man with anything less than a substantial amount of money be able to defend himself from such a legal problem?
There is a third, less talked about, solution that could eliminate if not greatly mitigate the problems associated with the other two. This solution would come in the form of a legal document called an “Acknowledgement of Consent.”
Before any mother can enter any court of law and demand support for her child at the expense of any man she must produce an Acknowledgement of Consent. This is a document signed by both parents in which the father asserts and the mother recognizes the father’s rights also in which the father assumes the responsibilities outlined in the document. These rights and responsibilities would only apply if the child is biologically his or if otherwise stated as in the case of adoption.
This document would be presented to the putative father before conception, as in the case of a married couple planning to try for a child, after conception or even after the child is born. It would be presented in some certifiable manner (certified mail or signed in the presence of a witness) so that in the event that the mother conceals the pregnancy from the father he can still assert his rights if the mother attempts to exclude him from the life of his child. He can say that he was never notified and therefore never given the opportunity to make a decision to parent the child, giving him the ability to contend for fatherhood in court.
This legal instrument would not in any way diminish the reproductive rights of the mother. She still has available to her every form of contraception as ever, can still abort the pregnancy and in the case she wants to give the child up for adoption the father can still, in absence of being given proper notification, be given the chance to assert his rights and responsibilities as a father. The mother CAN NOT force him to sign the Acknowledgement of Consent thus giving the man full reproductive rights.
This will require that a mother or mother to be who wants a man to take on the role of father of her child to do four things:
- Find a man who was able to assume the parental role of father
- Find a man who was willing to assume the parental role of father
- Make it worth said man’s while to take on the parental role of father
- Do something to make said man feel assured that the child/ren she were to present to him were in fact his through chastity before their relationship, fidelity during the relationship or have a DNA paternity test performed.
What would happen if women were again required to do these things when they wanted a man to take up the responsibility of providing for her children? There is almost no doubt that fatherlessness would all but disappear. Women would be forced to assume responsibilities to both their children and the fathers of their children commiserate with their rights as women and mothers. This, although some will surely disagree, is a modest proposal, one that involves the free will of both parties and the clear and necessary consideration of the children and of each parent for the other. In other words fathers would be put back into the equation of families giving children the proper upbringing they need and deserve.
Not only a modest proposal, but one that would have the most positive of outcomes.