Pregnancy: The Rights of Mothers and Fathers

Anyone who knows me knows where I stand on abortion, it is frequently discussed in the United States where, unlike other highly developed nations, it remains an immensely controversial issue in which both sides often end the discussion with gnashing teeth.

Of Boys and Girls

But much less discussed are the rights of husbands when it comes to pregnant wives. In the case of non-married couples, where we have no legal proof of long term commitment, there can be little doubt that fathers have absolutely no claim to the future of unborn children. This can be argued for a multitude of reasons. I would say the primary one is that giving the father such rights also gives him absolute power over the body of the mother – enslaving her to his whims and that of the state’s should it side with him. This would have terrible implications regarding the health of the mother and her bodily freedom. The second is that investing such power in the father is unjustified when, unmarried and legally unbound to her, he could relinquish his responsibility to that baby, saddling the burden of time, energy, and money to the mother. For these reasons mothers should remain the sole arbiters of their pregnancies.

It is certainly true that in an ideal world partners would discuss these important matters with each other before and after they transpire, instead of keeping secrets, withholding trust, or abusing their power with unilateral decisions. But we do not live in a world where we can trust that everyone will always be respectful of the feelings and situations of others and for that very simple reason, practically speaking, investing power outside of the mother such as in fathers or the state, is a dangerous gamble in which mothers have everything to lose and fathers everything to gain or dismiss. Remember, this is not because that baby belongs strictly to the mother and the father has no right to it, but because it is in the mother’s body and it is the mother’s body the father has no rights to.

Of Wives and Husbands

But now let us turn our attention to a different situation in which we might reasonably ask, but what about marriage? What if the partnership is legally binding in some way, whether it be by marital law or even domestic partnership in which evidence aplenty is present to prove that long term commitments and plans have been made, shared, and acted upon? Would it then be unreasonable and unjustifiable to invest some agency in the husband with regard to the future of a pregnancy?

Yes, there is no doubt that it would remain unjustifiable and unreasonable when we consider that the facts regarding what the mother/wife has to lose when this power shifts to the father/husband are still in force. This is not going to be a popular decision, I am sure, and for obvious reasons. Again, this position is a practical one because as I’ve stated before, we have to consider whose body is at risk of being held hostage and manipulated – and in any scenario in which the father/husband has agency, our mother/wife’s rights in total to her body are abrogated.

Now at the same time, so long as women are empowered to unilaterally decide the future of their pregnancies, fathers should at any time, regardless of the legal status of their partnerships, be able to relinquish responsibility to the unborn baby. After all, anything less would place the mother in an equally abusive and coercive position over the father. If she has the right to end the pregnancy at any time then it should also be the case that the father can dismiss any and all responsibility. After all, if the mother shouldn’t be held hostage by her body then why should the father be held hostage by it as well?

This isn’t just about men and women of course but for any partnership in which one is pregnant and the other is not. Sorry lesbians, but if your partner is pregnant so too does this logic apply to you. Gay men have even less ground to stand on, because conceivably they are dealing with a non-partner pregnant with a child they hope to raise. But that brings up the interesting addition of contracts to our calculus of who has the right to what.

Solving the Problem

In the United States paternity tests are apparently considered part of civil lawsuits and therefor can be issued with ease and forced upon the supposed father with equal alacrity. Though it is true that simply requesting a paternity test will not guarantee a court order for it – the court will review the case and make a decision about the validity of the claim. It is also true that the court can make a decision about paternity without the test if it is refused, contempt of court and legal consequences may follow such a refusal. This means that presently and legally speaking women have an advantage over men because it remains the case that spousal consent to abortion is considered unconstitutional. As a result, women are in the enviable position of sole arbiter with regard to pregnancies while fathers may be forced to comply with the law concerning child support in even unmarried circumstances. This, I contend, is a severe double standard and violation of the father’s rights.

I stated before and I’ll state again, if we are to invest all power regarding the future of a pregnancy in women, regardless of partnership status and dismissing the position of fathers, then fathers should be equally capable of relinquishing responsibility to the future child. If women cannot be held hostage by their bodies then why should fathers be held hostage by them?

How do we solve this complicated issue? Well, nothing can compel a woman to have a baby, but with regard to the father it is safe to say that in married couples when the baby is born he should then be bound to support the child. Legally speaking, we might even say that decisions regarding his right to relinquish responsibility have to be signed away, as in the case of parents found too dangerous to care or see their children. This should be done in reasonable time and before birth. In this way women are not bound to the whims of fathers but at the same time they remain empowered to walk away from a child they do not want – as women are able to do. In any case, a medium must be reached in which both parents are empowered in such a way that they do not control one another’s bodies and livelihoods in the course of making these decisions.

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