Jennifer was crushed when she was told that a baby was on the
way. She wants to have children, but the right way--after she
has found the right person and is married. But in Jennifer's
country, she has no choice. "Jenn" cannot give the child up for
adoption, and she cannot terminate the pregnancy. It is her
burden to bear, for the next two decades, like it or not.
What country is it which compels a person to have a child they
don't want? Afghanistan? Saudi Arabia?
No, it's the United States--not for Jenn, but for Ken.
Ken Johnson, a 10 year veteran of the Seattle Fire Department,
wanted to be a father, but with the right woman, and at the
right time. Three years ago he and his wife separated after six
years of marriage, and each began to date. During this time,
according to court documents filed in Snohomish County,
Washington, Ken had a brief affair with "Cathy," which resulted
in a pregnancy. Ken's legal complaint alleges that he begged
Cathy to put the child up for adoption or to terminate the
pregnancy, but Cathy refused. Now Ken and his wife, who
reconciled two and a half years ago, can't start a family of
their own because almost half of Ken's net income from the
Seattle Fire Department goes to support the child he didn't want
to have. He says:
"People tell me that Cathy should have the choice whether to
keep the child or not because it's her body so it's her choice.
I agree. But what about my body? I make my living rushing into
burning buildings. I put my life and my safety on the line
every time I go to work, and now I'm on the hook for 18 years.
With the child support demands on me, there's no way I'll ever
be able to quit. What about my choice?"
Johnson is part of a growing movement of men
who bristle at being "coerced fathers," and who have enlisted in
a "Choice for Men" movement whose goals are every bit as
legitimate as the goals of the women's reproductive rights
movement. They note that one million American women legally
walk away from motherhood every year by either adoption,
abortion, or abandonment, and demand that men, like women, be
given reproductive options. They point out that, unlike women,
men have no reliable contraception available to them, since the
failure rate of condoms is substantial, and vasectomies are
generally only worthwhile for older men who have already married
and had children. And they emphasize that, with long backlogs of
stable, two-parent families looking for babies to adopt, there
is no reason for any child born out of wedlock to a "coerced
father" to be without a good home.
The Choice for Men movement seeks to give "coerced fathers" the
right to relinquish their parental rights and responsibilities
within a month of learning of a pregnancy, just as mothers do
when they choose to give their children up for adoption. These
men would be obligated to provide legitimate financial
compensation to cover natal medical expenses, the mother's loss
of income during pregnancy, etc. The right would only apply to
pregnancies which occurred outside of marriage.
Some of those who fought for women's reproductive choices agree
with choice for men. Karen DeCrow, former president of the
National Organization for Women, writes:
"If a woman makes a unilateral decision to bring a pregnancy to
term, and the biological father does not, and cannot, share in
this decision, he should not be liable for 21 years of support
... autonomous women making independent decisions about their
lives should not expect men to finance their choice."
To date, courts have refused to consider fathers' reproductive
rights even in the most extreme cases, including: when child
support is demanded from men who were as young as 12 when they
were statutorily raped by older women; when women have taken the
semen from a used condom and inserted it in themselves,
including from condoms used only in oral sex; and when women
concealed the pregnancy from the man (denying him the right to
be a father) and then sued for back and current child support
eight or ten years later.
"It doesn't make sense to me," Ken's wife Patti says. "The
courts force my husband and I to support a child he never agreed
to, but make it financially impossible for him to have a child
with the woman he loves and married."
first appeared in the Los
Angeles Daily Journal and the San Francisco Daily Journal