The burden of pregnancy will never be fair. Child support can be — but men need to have a chance to opt out
BY ANNA MARCH, THE WEEKLINGS salon.com
An excerpt from THIS article
Over the past fifteen years, some feminists have argued that ending the current child support system is an important social issue. In the October 19, 2000 issue of Salon,Cathy Young argued that women’s freedom to choose parenthood is a reproductive right men do not have but should. Her article, “A Man’s Right to Choose,” identifies abortion rights and adoption as options that allow women greater sexual freedom than men when a sexual encounter results in conception. While there are alternatives to parental responsibility for women, for men, “in the eyes of the law, it seems that virtually no circumstances, however bizarre or outrageous, can mitigate the biological father’s liability for child support.” Kerrie Thornhill’s article “A Feminist Argument Against Child Support” in the July 18, 2011 issue of Partisans picks up this point, arguing that where birth control and safe abortion are legally available, choosing a sexual encounter should be a different choice than choosing to be a parent. She offers a three-step replacement for the current child support system. First, Thornhill writes that “when informed of a partner’s pregnancy, a man should get a single, time-sensitive opportunity to choose fatherhood.” Second, by accepting, a man would assume all the responsibilities of fatherhood, but by declining he would legally be no different than a sperm donor. Finally, she suggests that for low-income families, state-funded child support should exist. In her article “Is Forced Fatherhood Fair?” for the June 12, 2013 edition of the New York Times, Laurie Shrage echoes Kerrie Thornhill’s sentiment when she opines, “In consenting to sex, neither a man nor a woman gives consent to become a parent.” She argues that if one believes that women shouldn’t be penalized for sexual activity by limiting options such as birth control, abortion, adoption, and safe haven laws (laws that provide a safe space for parents to give up babies), then men’s options shouldn’t be limited either. These writers all point out that motherhood should be a voluntary condition. Shrage and Thornhill agree that the construct that fatherhood after birth is mandatory needs to change…..
….Additionally, lack of access to abortion doesn’t mean we should be unfair to men. We need to stand by women’s reproductive freedom, no matter what choice a woman makes. And a woman who wants a child needs to be prepared to support that child even if the biological father is not willing. I don’t believe that we will ever have true reproductive autonomy until men are offered the option, as women are, to opt out. We will never have full reproductive autonomy if we continue to put an asterisk next to “my body, my choice” and add the footnote “but if I decide to have a baby, pal, you have to pay…….”
…..My point is not to wave the flag for “men’s rights.” Most of the agenda of the “men’s rights” faction, which strikes me as largely a backlash against feminism, is intellectually weak and pains me. Rather, my point is that from a feminist standpoint, revamping child support is good for all of us. It removes social stigma from mothers who want to abandon their parental rights. We must be rational and fair and stop saying that differing biology means this can never be fair. It is better for children, it is better for women and men, and it is better for feminism. The burden of pregnancy will never be fair, no, as only women can get pregnant and they must solely face the physical burdens of pregnancy and abortion or birth. But while pregnancy can never be a truly equitable burden, child support can—and should—be fair….