A 25-year-old computer programmer has done what has long been thought impossible—he has united the pro-choice feminist left and the pro-life right. Matt Dubay of Saginaw, Michigan is the plaintiff in a new lawsuit in which he seeks to wipe out the child support payments he is obligated to make to an ex-girlfriend. He says he had made it clear to her that he didn’t want to be a father at this time, and that she got pregnant after she had repeatedly assured him that a physical condition rendered her sterile.
National Organization for Women president Kim Gandy, conservative TV host Bill O’Reilly and numerous commentators from all sides have criticized Dubay’s "Roe v. Wade for Men" lawsuit. Yet when commentators make the arguments against choice for men—"if a man doesn’t want to father a child he should have used birth control," "men need to take responsibility whether they wanted to have the child or not"—one can often detect a little confusion in their eyes, as if a part of them is whispering "uh, wait a minute, but couldn’t you say the same thing about women?"
One and a half million American women legally walk away from motherhood every year by adoption, abortion or abandonment, yet somehow nobody labels them "deadbeats" or "deserters." In over 40 states a mother can return the baby to the hospital within a few weeks of birth—completely opting out of motherhood with less hassle than it takes to return a DVD to Best Buy. Yet if the mother decides she wants to keep the child, she can demand 18 (or in some states 21 or 23) years of child support from the father, and he has no choice in the matter.
Feminists have long based their support for Roe v. Wade around the slogan "My Body, My Choice." Women’s rights legal advocate Jennifer Brown denounced Dubay’s suit, explaining that "Roe is based on an extreme intrusion by the government…There’s nothing equivalent for men."
However, 100,000 men each year are jailed for alleged non-payment of child support, and federal Office of Child Support Enforcement data reveal that 70% of those behind on payments earn poverty level wages. When states force a man to be financially responsible for a child he never wanted, and jail him if he comes up short, isn’t that a terrible state intrusion too? Don’t the sacrifices required to pay tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in child support over two decades take a heavy toll on a man, too?
Research shows that many men are unwillingly drafted into fatherhood, just as Dubay claims he was. The National Scruples and Lies Survey 2004 conducted in the United Kingdom found that 42% of the women in the survey said they would lie about contraception in order to get pregnant, regardless of the wishes of their partners. According to research conducted by Joyce Abma of the National Center for Health Statistics and Linda Piccinino of Cornell University, over a million American births each year result from pregnancies which men did not intend.
Under choice for men, unmarried fathers would have a one-time 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. Women would still be free to exercise all of the reproductive choices they now have.
Gandy, O’Reilly, Brown and others claim that the current system is necessary because it protects children. In reality, over time choice for men would greatly benefit American children—if women knew that they could not compel unmarried men to pay to support children they did not agree to have, the number of unwed births (and the huge social problems associated with them) would be reduced. Choice for men means better parenting because more men will be able to become fathers when they’re married, willing, and stable—a huge benefit for children.
Women’s advocates correctly note that pregnant women often have legitimate reasons for not wanting to be mothers, including youth, finances and the lack of a suitable relationship or marriage. Yet all of these apply equally to men. Women have a choice—men should, too.
- Saginaw News4/3/06