Weighing In On Male Reproductive Rights

With the current debates over abortion and birth control in the U.S. Republican primaries, and with the governments on both sides of the border claiming moral authority over what women do with their bodies in regard to sex and reproduction, the idea of reproductive rights has been at the forefront of much social debate. It’s a strong argument on both sides, after all. Does a woman have the right to decide whether or not she wishes to become a mother? If she’s pregnant, does she have the right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy? What if her reasoning is sanctioned, as in the case of a rape or significant threat to her health? What if it’s a grey area, as in the case of a potentially major developmental disability in the child that would essentially trap the mother in a lifetime of hard labour and care?

What if she just doesn’t like the idea of what it would do to her body?

These are all difficult questions, yet some might consider them cut and dry. Pro-lifers argue that nobody has the right to terminate a pregnancy under any circumstances. Pro-choice advocates disagree. And lawmakers, it seems, are intent on making the decision black or white.?Yet for all the rhetoric, the one area that doesn’t get discussed is that of male reproductive rights.

This seems, on the surface at least, like an obvious con. After all, men don’t carry babies so they have no say in the matter, right?

To quote women I know personally, “if you don’t want to knock her up, keep it in your pants.” But this adversarial approach is fundamentally flawed as well: there are two people required to make a baby. In the event of a rape it applies, but in the event of a romantic (or at least?consensual) encounter, it’s not a solo show. She could also have “kept it in her pants.”

The question boils down to this: Does a man have the right to choose whether or not he becomes a father? Pundits argue that this is the fundamental choice for women, but recall very carefully that a woman is not the only parent in the equation.

Blogger and essayist Keith Wiley wrote, back in 2001,

In the case of a pregnancy, there are four possible scenarios: both parents want the child, neither parent wants the child, the man wants the child and the woman doesn’t, or the woman wants the child and the man doesn’t. Of these four scenarios, two of them are immediately moot. If both parents are in agreement, whether for or against having the child, there is no dilemma and therefore no issue to be resolved. That’s easy enough. Of the remaining two scenarios, one of those is also quite clearly moot. If the man wants to keep the child and the woman doesn’t, then I say tough luck for the man. He will just have to sow his oats elsewhere. He has absolutely no right to force the woman to undergo pregnancy and childbirth just so he can have a child.

It’s the last scenario with which Wiley, and indeed most MRR advocates, has an issue. Suppose the man doesn’t?want a child??Wiley correctly points out that it is the woman’s right to determine her own course of action; but her choice does, in every instance, directly affect the outcome for her partner as well. And if she decides she wants to have a baby in spite of the man’s objections there’s nothing he can do about it; and he will, as a result, be financially obligated to care for that child for the better part of the next two decades. He has no choice?in the matter.?Does the man not have the right to financial protection?

Consider for a moment what an unwanted pregnancy can do for the male partner. Under the laws of all 50 states, and across Canada, if a man fathers a child he is financially responsible to the mother until that child reaches the age of 18. That’s no small financial undertaking. The “keep it in your pants” argument would seem sufficient protection against his stupidity in becoming a father.

But is it?

Popular men’s advocacy blog A Voice For Men?makes a clear statement of the problems associated with the logic here, first by stating:

The rationalization hamster races whenever this topic is broached in support of a regard for male human beings deserving basic human rights:

  • Men don?t get pregnant, stupid!
  • You should have used a condom, stupid!
  • You made your decision when you had sex, stupid!

The first of these asinine, and yet often repeated rebuttals ? that men don?t get pregnant, to the extent that it?s true, supports the argument that being pregnant is a choice, and it?s a choice that only women have.

The author goes on to point out that, in reality, women have full control of their fertility and pregnancies, to the extent that they can decided whether or not to become pregnant, prevent pregnancy beforehand, or terminate the pregnancy immediately thereafter. But the motto “a?woman?s body, a woman?s choice” is entrenched in law. And it’s true and justified, to the extent that nobody has the right to force a woman to suffer through the protracted period of gestation and subsequent pain of child birth for an offspring she doesn’t want. The author goes on to explain the dichotomy:

Men, by contrast, do not control women?s fertility, nor their pregnancies. This is why men have no right to force a woman to continue a pregnancy, nor any right to limit a woman?s use of pre-conception birth control.

However, a man whose sperm is used to fertilize a woman?s ovum carries legal obligations to not only abide by the woman?s decision to become pregnant, noting that in almost all cases this is a matter of volition and choice. In addition, the full enforcement powers of the state, both the civil police and the financial institutions regulated by the state will compel a man whose sperm is used to support that woman?s reproductive choice for almost all of the following two decades.

A man has no legal choice in this. He has no reproductive rights, even while he carries legal and financial obligation. In fact, although debtor?s prisons have been outlawed for more than a century, men unable to meet the enforced financial obligation mandated by a woman?s exercised right of reproduction, these men are regularly imprisoned. This is unambiguously an implementation of the morally repulsive practice of slavery;?the reproductive trap.

The language is strong but the point is valid. While the reproductive battleground has placed the capacity for deciding in the hands of the female partner, it has simultaneously removed all rights from the man, simply because he can’t get pregnant and therefore has no say in the matter.?A woman can claim the right to, say, an abortion in the case of a rape. She didn’t want the attention. She doesn’t want the child. But suppose for a moment that a 16-year-old boy is raped by a female teacher–a situation becoming all too common in recent years. If the teacher becomes pregnant by him, of course he’s not responsible for raising the child. He’s a minor, after all.

Until he turns 18. Then he is responsible for paying support to his rapist for the upbringing of his unwanted child.

Before you turn the situation around and start going off about how he’s still responsible because he could have refused, let’s just keep in mind that the hormones of your average teenage boy are not to be underestimated first of all, and secondly that the teacher is the adult and in full control of her sexual faculties. No one would argue that a 16-year-old girl seduced and impregnated by a male teacher should be forced to raise an unwanted child. The reason statutory rape is called statutory rape is because it is rape.

If a woman lies?about being on birth control and insists her partner doesn’t use a condom, she may become impregnated. In this instance it’s arguable that he does have a choice whether to use a condom or not. However, it is not uncommon for a woman to end a relationship over this issue. Often women so intensely dislike condoms as a practice that they elect to go on the pill (or the shot, or have an IUD). Birth control of any kind may fail, but this kind of?coercion?is not uncommon. It’s worse if it’s an outright deception, because it’s still legally?the man’s responsibility to fund the raising of that child for the next eighteen years.

In the most notorious cases, women have admitted?to using semen from a discarded condom in order to impregnate themselves against their partner’s wishes (see Liz Jones’ confession in the Daily Mail, and the follow up story of four men similarly deceived and subsequently punished). If you asked any reasonable person, male or female, if this deception warranted punishing the father for the next twenty years most would likely say “no,” that the father did his part to prevent the pregnancy, and that it’s all the woman’s responsibility. But the law believes otherwise, and the cycle of forced child support continues. The deception is bad enough, but the legal entrapment and subsequent financial burden it places on the men involved is the most troubling part.

Not sure you agree? It’s dicey territory to say the least, principally because men’s involvement in sex has been criminalized to such an extreme that the popular radical feminist view (that all sex is violence) is becoming systemically entrenched.?Take, for example, the declaration by the Irish Supreme Court in February of this year that teenage boys can be prosecuted for having sex with an underage girl. Girls, however, are immune from prosecution under the same circumstances. The reasoning?

“…girls risk pregnancy and the law is entitled to place the burden of criminal sanction on those who bear the least adverse consequences.” [source]

To translate, the court is saying that because girls can get pregnant, their consequence (in fact, only their risk) is built into the activity. Because there’s no inherent risk for boys they can be held criminally accountable. By extension, one could therefore argue that a minor who is caught shoplifting could be held criminally liable only if he has two parents, because a child in a single-parent household already risks a statistically higher chance of poverty.

Two drivers meet in a head-on collision. Neither is killed. One of the drivers is drunk; the other is sober. By the logic of the Irish Supreme Court, the sober driver is criminally liable because he bears “the least adverse consequences.” After all, the drunk driver is already at risk of dying in an accident simply by virtue of being drunk.

This line of reasoning isn’t meant to compare teenage girls who get pregnant to shoplifters and drunk drivers. It’s meant to point out that the sum of the argument; that boys can be prosecuted simply because they risk less; is foolish. We reiterate (yet again) that there are two people involved, two people making choices, and two people accepting risk.

Child support laws get out of hand when it comes to punishing fatherhood. Fathers Are Capable Too, a Canadian advocacy group that supports equal involvement of both parents, lists some of the most bizarre and outlandish cases of child support legislation going totally awry, including:

  • garnishing an 11-year-old boy’s bank account to pay his own child support because the account also bears his father’s name;
  • garnishing the accounts of an 85-year-old grandmother whose son owed child support;
  • minor boys in Kansas and California (one of whom was actually drugged?before intercourse!) being forced to pay child support to their adult female rapists;
  • and even a 50-year-old man suing his parents for child support because his depression makes him unable to work.

OK, that last one is a mere curiosity and not totally relevant to the discussion of male reproductive rights. But clearly some of these, especially those of the minors in Kansas and California, are completely out of line with reality. Those boys are not fathers who have walked out on their families. They’re young boys who are being forced to reward their rapists.

Ultimately the rationale of keeping reproductive rights in the hands of women makes sense because ultimately they are the ones who must carry the physical–and often emotional–burden of bearing a child. But where deception, rape, and entrapment are the keys to becoming pregnant, the rights of the father ought to be brought to bear on an individual, case-by-case basis. No one has the right to force parenthood on another person, be they male or female.

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