John Stachokus, the Pennsylvania would-be
father who lost his bid to block his ex-girlfriend's abortion,
has found himself in a position familiar to millions of American
men: He has a large personal stake in a decision in which he is
not allowed to take any part. His wishes are irrelevant. When it
comes to reproduction, in America today women have rights and
men merely have responsibilities.
When a woman wants a child and a man does
not, the woman can have the child anyway -- and demand 18 years
of child support from the father. This remains true even if the
father had made it clear that he did not want to have children,
and even if the woman had previously agreed to respect his
For decades, leading feminist organizations
such as the National Organization for Women and the National
Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League have argued that
women should have reproductive rights because nobody should be
able to tell them what to do with their own bodies. Thus the
slogan "My Body, My Choice."
But the sacrifices required to pay 18 years
of child support should not be discounted, either. The average
American father works a 51-hour work week, one of the longest in
the industrialized world. It is men, overwhelmingly, who do our
society's hazardous jobs. Nearly 50 American workers are injured
every minute of the 40-hour work week. On average, every day 17
die -- 16 of them male. Couldn't men who work long hours or do
hazardous jobs -- and
who suffer the concomitant physical ailments and injuries --
argue that their bodies are on the line, too? Where is their
NOW and NARAL were legitimately concerned
that the Pennsylvania anti-abortion injunction, which was issued
on a temporary basis last Wednesday and dissolved the following Monday,
could have established a precedent for giving men and the
government control over an important aspect of women's lives.
But when a woman forces a man to be responsible for a child only
she wants, is she not exercising control over his life? And when
the massive government child-support apparatus hounds the
reluctant father for financial support, takes a third of his
income and jails him if he comes up short, isn't the government
exercising control over his life? Advocates of reproductive
choice for men -- the right of an unmarried man to sign away his
parenting rights and responsibilities upon learning of an
unwanted pregnancy -- have a legitimate claim, based on the same
arguments that feminists have used to support their case for
choice for women.
When the situation is reversed and the woman
does not want to have a child and the man does -- as is the case
with Stachokus and his ex-girlfriend, Tanya Meyers -- once
again, women have rights and men do not. A woman who doesn't
want her child can terminate the pregnancy against the father's
wishes, or put their child up for adoption, sometimes without
the father's permission. In some states, she can even return the
baby to the hospital within a week of birth. More than 1 million
American women legally walk away from motherhood every year.
Perhaps, as some have argued, Stachokus was
using his legal maneuvers as a way to exercise control over the
ex-girlfriend who broke up with him. More likely he was simply a
proud papa-to-be. Maybe he imagined his child to be a little
daddy's girl, or a son he would proudly raise to be a man. Or
perhaps he is just a stand-up guy who wanted to live up to what
he sees as his responsibilities.
Even if Stachokus had persuaded Meyers to
have their child, he probably would not have been allowed to be
a meaningful part of his child's life. Meyers does not want to
marry or stay with him. Legal precedents -- and a stubbornly
held but baseless cultural notion that children fare better with
their mothers -- suggest that, even though he was willing to
take full or partial custody, he would have had little chance of
getting it. Many unwed and divorced fathers face a difficult
struggle to remain a part of their children's lives.
Custodial mothers frequently violate fathers'
visitation rights, and courts do little to enforce them. Some
custodial mothers move hundreds or even thousands of miles away
from their children's fathers, and it is frequently difficult
for these dads to maintain regular contact with their kids.
Stachokus may have ended up like the hundreds
of thousands of American fathers who love children they are not
able or allowed to see, and whose suffering is ignored by a
society that seems capable only of denigrating fathers.
John, whatever move you made, you never had a
chance. Welcome to modern American fatherhood.
This column first appeared in
Newsday (8/7/02) and
Glenn Sacks writes about gender issues from the male
perspective. He can be reached at
Dianna Thompson is a founder and executive director of the American Coalition for Fathers and Children (www.acfc.org). She can be contacted by e-mail at