Women’s reproductive rights are, quite rightly, a major issue. Autonomy over one’s own body, sexuality and reproduction is incredibly important and attempts to restrict or ban abortion are an infringement on human rights. Those who are against abortion typically cite irrational reasons – religion – for opposing it while rationalists, almost always, support a woman’s right to choose.
But what about a man’s reproductive rights?
Specifically, I’m talking about parental rights and responsibilities.
If a woman gets pregnant she has several choices.
- Giving the child up for adoption.
The man has absolutely no say whatsoever in the matter and whatever decision the woman makes he is saddled with.
Obviously there are biological concerns here. Only women can carry children – at the moment. There is no way to safely transfer a pregnancy to a surrogate and even then similar issues can come to apply. Any attempt at applying fairness and gender equality must here, as anywhere else, bow to the demands of nature.
Ethically we cannot demand a woman carry to term a child that she does not want.
Ethically we cannot force a woman to have an abortion she does not want.
The man involved cannot, therefore, be afforded the privilege of dictating what a woman does with her own body and the potential human being inside her. We can only, then, extend a man’s reproductive rights outside of the sphere of directly affecting a woman’s body. As such a man can only be afforded reproductive freedom in one way.
A legalistic abortion.
In the event of an unwanted pregnancy the man would have the option to give up all rights and responsibilities to the child. He would have no visitation rights, no involvement and no financial burden. This is not a new idea, dating back to 1998, and it is one that has been picked up on by Father’s and Men’s Human rights groups. It’s even been – tentatively – tested in court (Dubay Vs Wells). It didn’t go to the Supreme Court and the excuse for not upholding it was concern for the child, the same language used to defend constrictions on abortion.
As things stand this is the only way to even slightly redress the balance when it comes to reproductive autonomy between the genders. Yes, the withdrawal of support will increase pressure on the woman and may influence her eventual choice but there remains a choice, whereas the man has no choice whatsoever at present. If the child is born, against his wishes, he’s on the hook for 18+ years supporting a child that he never wanted to and in all likelihood a woman he didn’t intend to support. The negative impact on him is considerable and has even driven men to suicide.
It is not a perfect solution, but then nor is the current situation. There are issues and problems, but then there always are. These would need to be discussed (Who will pay to look after the child? When is the cut-off date? What if the pregnancy is kept secret or isn’t realised? What if the man changes his mind or the child wants to know who they are?) The starting point, however, and one that is necessary is that rights between men and women should be as equal as possible and this is the only way to pursue that just end.
What has been disturbing, when discussing this idea, is the arguments coming from women – and men – who are very pro women’s rights and abortion in this context, but are steadfastly against extending even an abridged version of those rights to men. Women, even progressive, feminist women, seem shocked and appalled by the idea that a man should not be forced to look after an unwanted child. Many of the arguments given against the idea echo the kind of shaming tactics used by the religious right against abortion. Arguments that one should simply abstain from sex if you don’t want a child and so forth.
This is a shame and a stark example of where feminism diverges from egalitarianism, prioritising women’s rights over those of their male counterparts. It’s also an example of where we are forced to admit the biological differences between the genders and how they might have bearing on ethics, law and equality.