How can an article be so right and so wrong at the same time (National Post, 11/8/13)? The topic – should men be able to “opt out” of a pregnancy – is important and timely, and the writer, Sarah Boesveld is to be commended for (a) dealing with it at all and (b) doing so in a forthright and fairly sympathetic manner. At the same time, where are the male voices? Nowhere to be found. Not a single man is interviewed. How is it that Boesveld decided that writing about one of the great inequalities faced by men in family courts is, in some way, only proper for discussion among women?
I suppose the logical conclusion is that our culture (and in this case, Canada’s) can only hear about matters relating to children from the mouths of women. In that way, of course, the article perpetuates the sexist fiction that only women are qualified to discuss anything related to family and children, even when the topic is fathers’ rights. In short, Boesveld casts her piece as questioning the status quo, while actually doing the opposite. The truly radical act would have been to ask men for their honest opinions on family law and female privilege therein, but Boesveld refused (didn’t dare?) to do that.
The basic question of the piece stems from women’s abortion rights. How is it equitable for women to be able to opt out of pregnancy if the man who fathered the child doesn’t have the same right? Precisely in line with her refusal to ask a single man what he thought about that topic, is this remarkable comment:
In most of North America, women have the full reproductive choices they didn’t have 40 years ago. But now that non-committal sex has become a social norm, and technology has made paternity testing foolproof, a small but growing number of feminists are asking: Shouldn’t men, too, be allowed to opt out of parenthood?
Cough. Feminists? Is it possible that Boesveld doesn’t know that men’s rights advocates have been arguing for the right to opt out of an unwanted pregnancy for years, even decades? Or does she know the fact but simply believe that, in today’s radically anti-father environment, to connect the opt-out notion with fathers would be to kill it, as it were, in the cradle. It’s impossible to say, but whatever the case, in the event fathers’ right to opt out gains traction, it needs to do so apart from feminists. The simple fact is that, if we allow feminists to dominate the debate on the subject, whatever results from it will probably be skewed in ways no men’s rights advocate would either recognize or agree to.
Don’t believe me? Check out the following thumbnail description of what opt-out rights might look like as viewed through a feminist lens. In the words of Joyce Arthur, Executive Director of the Abortion Rights Council of Canada,
“[But] before we expect men to be given that option of opting out, we need to make sure women do have really good access to abortion and we need to ensure the government can step in for men who opt out,” she said.
That’s not what men mean when they say “opt out.” What most fathers’ rights advocates mean by opting out of responsibility for a child is a kind of mirror image of women’s abortion rights. A woman in the U.S. has a pretty unfettered right to terminate a pregnancy during the first six months of pregnancy. (Texas just reduced that time to 20 weeks which is more in line with abortion limitations in European countries. The new Texas law has yet to be vetted by the U.S. Supreme Court, but most observers expect it to be soon.) Those rights allow a woman to decide unilaterally whether she’ll continue with her pregnancy and give birth to the child or put a stop to gestation. She can do so no questions asked and of course the father has no say in the matter unless she elects to consult him.
One obvious corollary to the above rule is that, like so many other laws relating to parents and children, a father’s rights are frankly placed in the mother’s hands. Does he passionately desire a child? Too bad; he has no input into her decision. If she wants to terminate the pregnancy, she can. Is he not ready for fatherhood, has he not finished college, is he financially unprepared, etc.? Again, it’s his tough luck if she decides to keep the child.
Many people understand the facts of women’s abortion rights and can’t help but notice that the same things that motivate a woman to terminate a pregnancy also motivate a man. But she, not he, controls his rights. Those people, like me, support abortion rights, but understand that the old feminist claim (whenever abortion rights are questioned) that women only abort fetuses in the interests of their health or that of the fetus is bogus. To see why women choose to abort, go to the website for the Guttmacher Institute. There you’ll learn that, overwhelmingly, women choose abortion for the same types of practical reasons that affect men. She hasn’t completed her education, she doesn’t have the money, she’s not ready to be a mother, her relationship with the father isn’t what it should be are the main reasons given by women for why they aborted a fetus. To my mind, they’re all perfectly sensible reasons, but we shouldn’t overlook the fact that they involve practicalities, not necessities.
Since men are similarly motivated, many thoughtful observers think they should have a parallel right to in effect say “No, I’m not ready to be a dad.” So the idea behind men’s right to opt out runs something like this: if a woman becomes pregnant, she needs to tell the man in time for him to have, say, two or three months in which to make his decision. If he decides against fatherhood, he needs to tell her in time for her to make a decision about whether or not to abort. That way, if he opts out, she’ll have notice of the fact and, if she decides to keep the child, will know that he won’t be there to support her or the child, or to take part in raising it. She’ll then be able to make an informed decision about how to proceed.
But that’s a far cry from what’s suggested in the quotation, which is pure feminist “it takes a
village whole country” nonsense. The idea that, if a father opts out, but the mother goes ahead and has the child, it becomes the taxpayer’s responsibility to support her child is so wrong-headed as to beggar description. Feminists have long plumped for women to be absolved of as much responsibility for their decisions as possible, but having taxpayers foot the bill for her decision borders on the insane. To say that it’s a political non-starter is putting it mildly.
It’s also a financial one as well. Just consider: There are currently about 24 million children in this country living with a single mother. What if all those children had fathers who’d opted out, as indeed a good number of them do, albeit not under the laws promoted by men’s rights advocates. Assume further that it takes $1,000 per month to raise a child. That’s $24 billion per month, or $288 billion a year, just to support the children of women who were exempted from the consequences of their own choices. Sound like a good idea to you?
I’ve got a better one: if a woman wants to bear and raise a child in the absence of its father, she should support it herself. To feminists, this doubtless sounds like a radical notion, but to me it sounds like taking responsibility for one’s own actions. Like I say, a radical notion.
Then there’s the obvious fact that taxpayers paying women to have children without fathers encourages them to do just that. The truth is that we’ve got far too much of that behavior already without issuing mothers a monthly check, courtesy of millions of people she’s never met, for doing so.
Having gotten this far, it’s beginning to look like Boesveld and the feminists she quotes may be up to something. By rejecting the sensible and fair ideas of men’s rights advocates and substituting the feminist version, it’s beginning to look more like a way to squelch the idea from the start, than to give it a fair hearing. After all, if the public gets the idea that there’s a movement afoot to give men opt-out rights, but those rights involve the public footing the massive bill for women’s private, individual choices, they’ll laugh the idea right out of our national discourse.
In short, the idea put forward by Joyce Arthur looks less like a birth control pill for men than a poison pill for the whole idea.
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