Thursday, January 12, 2006

Men's Rights And Abortion

A few days ago, behind the New York Times firewall, John Tierney brought us his thoughts on the question of men's rights and abortion. This issue has come up quite a bit lately - perhaps it is growing traction. But I am astonished by the noodle-brained nonsense that passes for analysis, Tierney's piece being no exception. While presenting his thoughts within the context of Alito, he focuses on obstacles to those who question spousal notification laws:
The first is public opinion. Most Americans tell pollsters that they think a husband should be notified before an abortion, and the Pennsylvania law that Alito approved was hardly a draconian version of that principle. It merely required a woman to say, without presenting any proof, that she'd told her husband. If she said she feared physical abuse, she was exempted.
Assuming that is not an endorsement of government by opinion poll, it is worth noting that it should not be at all surprising that most people believe that a wife should tell her husband that she plans to have an abortion. It is also worth noting that the factoid presented does not also contend that a majority of Americans believe that she should be compelled to do so as a matter of law - and any such notion should be patently offensive to any small government conservative, let alone a libertarian.

Is it safe to assume that in a strong relationship, such issues will be discussed and the decision made by a married couple in concert? If not, we have much bigger issues to worry about in regard to the state of our nation's marriages than spousal notification laws. If so, this law only applies in the context of weak marriages which might be harmed or destroyed by spousal notification. In light of that, even with an exception for "fear of physical abuse", is this provision really about the sharing of information, or is it really about effecting the maximum possible coercion upon a woman who may fear being bullied, intimidated, or deserted based upon her choice?
The second obstacle is the logic of feminism. Spousal notification has been denounced as retrograde by the same advocates who have been demanding gender equality in the workplace and at home. If men are expected to be parents with equal responsibilities, shouldn't they at least be allowed to discuss whether to have a child?
Tierney appears to be suggesting that a pregnant woman and the father have an equal burden in regard to pregnancy. Hey - if Tierney can come up with a fetal transfer technique which transplants the fetus from the pregnant woman into the father, I'm with him all the way. But barring that, surely he can see at least a slight difference?

Last I checked, men are allowed to discuss whether or not they want to have a child. They are free to do so with any of their prospective sexual partners. If they decide that their philosophies are too different, or even suspect that their philosophies are so much as slightly different, they can pass on the encounter. Last I checked, married couples frequently discussed their plans to have (or not to have) a family, and what size it should be.
If the pro-choice side adopted a gender-neutral policy, then either the man or the woman would have the right to say no to parenthood. I don't know of anyone advocating that a woman be required to have an abortion, but there's another right that could be given to a man who impregnates a woman who isn't his wife. If the woman decided to go ahead and have the child, she would have to notify him and give him the option early in the pregnancy of absolving himself of any financial responsibility for the child.
Okay... so Tierney isn't going to let a man force a woman to have an abortion. But he is sympathetic to the notion of letting any man disclaim financial responsibility following pregnancy, thereby saddling the woman (and the state) with the cost of raising the child? Has he given this idea even the slightest amount of thought? Because I can think of many married couples where there is an imbalance of power in the relationship, where the husband would take this option knowing full well that his wife would have the child - creating a situation where she would be left destitute if she tried to leave him, but he could walk away at any time without financial consequence. What a wonderful world that would be. And I think it would be extremely common for single men to opt out of supporting their offspring. (And what if a fourth month ultrasound or seventh month amniocentesis showed a developmental disorder which would make child-rearing more difficult and expensive? Can dad still opt out?)

Oh, but don't you go accusing Tierney of being a sexist idiot, because he has proof he's not sexist - he can quote a self-proclaimed feminist:
This option to have a "financial abortion" has been advocated by a few iconoclasts - not all of them men with child-support payments. The term was coined by Frances Goldscheider, a professor of sociology at Brown University who studies family issues. She compares the current campaign against "deadbeat dads" to the punishments once given to "wayward women" for having illegitimate children.

"It used to be our daughters we worried about being forced into inappropriate parenthood, but now it must be our sons," she says. "Men should not be made to become fathers against their will. They should have the right Planned Parenthood has claimed for women: 'Every child a wanted child.'"
So to make sure that every child is a wanted child, we'll create a society with far more fatherless children (or far more abortions - it has to be one or the other). And to punish "wayward women", even if they are virgins to the point of the single encounter which leaves them pregnant, we free men up to be as sexually reckless and promiscuous as they want. What a wonderful world that would be....

Tierney even tries to distance himself from any accusation of sexism, quoting the same woman:
There is, of course, one big physical inequality between the sexes in this regard: it's the woman who must either have the abortion or go through the pregnancy.

But as Goldscheider points out, women also have more power than men to prevent the pregnancy because they have exclusive control over some forms of contraception. It's not fair, she says, for a woman who lies about being on the pill to be able to trick a man into marrying her or making child-support payments for 18 years.
The first easy response is that barrier methods are pretty darn visible, and remain available to men. The second easy response is that if you're in a situation where you believe a woman may be lying to you to "trap" you into impregnating her, you had darn well better either use a barrier method or forego the encounter. Besides, no birth control method is 100% effective - any man who doesn't want to take a chance on becoming a father is well-served to employ a back-up method. (Does Tierney suffer a "whore-madonna complex"? Does he really split the world into good women who don't have sex until they are married, and evil harpies who are out to trap men into marriage or the payment of child support? It sure seems so.)

In the end, Tierney decides against this proposal - not because of its absurd unfairness, but because it might end up hitting him in the pocketbook. But to be fair to men who have to pay child support, he's willing to impose the burden of spousal notification on women whose husbands might otherwise be excused of that burden.


  1. I think one thing that Tierney forgets is that in a very real sense, fathers already can (and do) opt out of fatherhood. The only obligation imposed on men who impregnate women is financial. They can walk away if they choose. I am sure that as a father you will agree that there is a lot more to fatherhood than simply signing a check.

  2. I think Tierney sees it a bit differently - that is, because there is now an expectation that a father will do more than "bring home the bacon", he should have the opportunity to... do nothing.

    Does that make sense? Why should it? It's a standard Tierney idiotorial.

  3. So Tierney is proposing that a husband who doesn't want to be a father can remain married, but have no financial obligation to his wife's children, who are legally his?

  4. Technically speaking, he liked the idea but ultimately rejected it because it could punish the children or (seemingly worse) require increased social assistance.


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