Friday, March 10, 2006

A dangerous question 

Steve Antler asks a very dangerous question for which I have no principled answer. I'd like a little help with this one.

UPDATE: I actually do have a principled answer, which I may or may not work up the courage to reveal. But I'd still appreciate your comments.


By Blogger sirius_sir, at Sat Mar 11, 12:32:00 AM:

I suppose the male counterpart has the right to commit suicide and thereby avoid all responsibilities, but I doubt that answer is very satisfying.

More seriously, I'd suggest both parents are responsible as long as there is a child to support. Obviously the woman's choice of abortion removes that condition, while the man's choice of simply not paying support doesn't.

As to the argument that terminating financial support to the child is less disastrous than terminating the life of the foetus, that's likely true as far as it goes. But it's also true that a foetus isn't a child; to suggest otherwise is a false equivalency and doesn't address the issue of parental responsibility to an extant child.  

By Blogger John B. Chilton, at Sat Mar 11, 01:18:00 AM:

I don't have the balls to comment. At least not yet.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Mar 11, 01:20:00 AM:

The concept of child support rests on the assumption that a man has an inherent duty to provide for his children, so shouldn't it follow that the father also has a say in whether the child is born? Why is it that a woman can abort a child even if the child's father wants the baby? Apparently because it's her child, but does it cease to be her child when she gives birth to it? It seems a little unfair to say that a man has absolutely no control over his child until it's born, at which point he automatically assumes what essentially amounts to full financial responsibility. This little bit of hypocrisy by the pro-choice crowd became especially ridiculous during the controvery over a law that required a woman to notify the father when she planned on getting an abortion. It's another chapter in the story of discrimination against the majority, which very seldom gets called for what it is.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Mar 11, 05:50:00 AM:

Look to Darwin. The woman by nature has more of a physical investment in the child. For the man, it's a trade-off between sowing wild oats vs. putting down roots. For the guys, each strategy has its pros and cons re the survival of his genes ino the next generation. For the gals, an occasional sowing of wild oats is not without possibilities -- bringing new blood into the tribe -- of course.  

By Blogger Dan Collins, at Sat Mar 11, 08:14:00 AM:

In the heat of passion, I always have the woman sign a "pre-sexual agreement."  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Mar 11, 08:20:00 AM:

Traditionally, the law has required the father to support the child, as opposed to "the state," to protect the public fisc (as well as the child). That is why, husbands are "presumed" under the law to be the father of children born to their wives during the marriage. DNA testing has thrown a wrench into that one, of late.

I can see the argument that it is not "fair" that the man gets "stuck" supporting a child he did not want, but I think the quid pro quo that would allow the father to choose nonsupport because the mother has the choice of abortion is specious. Both parties "chose" to have sex, and sex has consequences. If we don't want a baby, we know how to keep that from happening. It is called contraception. Once those unwanted babies arrive, someone has to be responsible for them, and frankly, I don't think it should be me (unless I'm the mom!) So let the parents pay. BOTH of them.

I am not unsympathetic to the men out there who find themselves in the position of supporting a kid that they didn't intend to have, but I hate the idea that THE BABY should be penalized just because mom could have had an abortion and chose not to do so.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Sat Mar 11, 11:48:00 AM:

Bottom line is this:

You don't penalize an innocent child, either way. Not if you have an ounce of decency in you. Children aren't opportunity costs: they are human beings.

Mom doesn't get to kill off an innocent child because she couldn't be bothered to use an effective form of contraception and avoid an entirely avoidable pregnancy. Put the child up for adoption or raise it yourself. Or better yet, THINK.

Dad doesn't get to avoid supporting a child that never needed to come into the world if he'd just kept it in his pants or, failing that, again, *made sure a reliable form of contraception had been used*. Given that there is no 100% reliable form of contraception available to the male short of vasectomy, I'd suggest that he needs to be very very careful about where he chooses to sow his seed, and with whom.

Life's not fair, is it? Just like it's not really fair to women that they are stuck with the physical outcome of an "unplanned" (in the sense that neither party planned in advance NOT to get that way) pregnancy. But then biology isn't concerned with equitable outcomes. Deal with it.

You wanna play, you gotta pay.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Sat Mar 11, 11:58:00 AM:

And on further reflection (probably not enough) the more I think about this issue I am reluctantly coming to the conclusion that what is really wrong with our current "solution" to the "problem" of unplanned pregnancies is that we have infantilized women and allowed them to skate away from their responsibilities while simultaneously finally trying to get men to own up to theirs via paternity suits, etc.

This makes no sense. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Both parents must be responsible.

And this is from a very reluctantly pro-choice Rethug. I find it absolutely morally and intellectually untenable to say that women can unilaterally rescind their half of the parenthood contract but men cannot.

What utter rubbish.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Mar 11, 01:32:00 PM:

Giving women the moral responsibility to make decisions about their own bodies infantilizes them? Wow, I must be watching another channel.

Incidentally, vascetomies are not actually 100% effective form of contraception, either. I think tubal ligation is more effective, but I'm not certain of the stats on that.

I agree with the line that once the child is born, both parties have responsibility. One test case would be an unwed "father's" financial responsibility to pay for the mother's prenatal care (or maybe her groceries). That is a more apt analogy than child support -- because the mother has responsibilities then, too, not JUST the father.

All I say (as a woman) is I don't want legislators -- no matter how well-intentioned -- trying to line-draw the appropriateness of my medical decisions. I don't know anyone who has actually had an abortion (even a very early one) who has not felt morally conficted about it. Personally, I can think of few scenarios in which it would be the decision I would reach -- although in my last pregnancy I do remember discussing with my doctor whether there were any medical conditions that were incompatible with life (i.e., where the child born would live only briefly and potentially be in great pain) that one could not detect from an in-depth sonogram . . . . I really would like Gov. Rounds and his ilk to be absent from the arena of these medical discussions. Seriously.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Sat Mar 11, 01:49:00 PM:

As a white male, I've simply gotten used to being the obvious bogeyman root of the world's problems.

I'm responsible for the slaughter and displacement of entire enlightened, peace loving civilizations (like the American Indians). All those stories of rapes, kidnappings, tortures, and ransacked European settlements are just propaganda created after the fact to justify the immoral seizures, and political initiatives to return the seized land to descendants of the victims will be normal and acceptable. The fact that both I and modern descendants of said civilizations were both born here will be routinely ignored. This version of history was taught to me and will be taught to my children.

I'm responsible for the enslavement and mistreatment of blacks. I've participated on raids to Africa where we rounded up and kidnapped hundreds of victims. Allegations that African tribes sold us the slaves that they captured in raids and warfare of their own in return for booze and trinkets like they had been doing for literally millenia is politically incorrect and a filthy lie and will not be repeated in the public sphere, including institutes of higher learning.

Because of this history, it is morally reprehensible to mention the establishment of slavery as an institution in European or American society or refer to its victims as anything other than "African American" or, sometimes, "black." In the name of justice, however, said victims can refer to me however they wish, in public, in the media, at any time. Examples include but are not limited to "whitey," "honkey," "white devil," "cracker," "albino," "casper," and "The Oppressor." Also, I owe modern day descendants of slaves money, land, and deference for their pain. The facts that slavery was forcibly ended by the bloodiest war ever fought in the Western Hemisphere 6 generations ago and that the youngest person to remember the Civil Rights movement (much less participate in it) is my parent's age, and that I thereby have less than nothing to do with it, will be ignored. College courses will exist whose sole purpose is to justify this thinking.

I participate in grand conspiracies to hold down "brown people," and I wear the title of "The Man" proudly. Because of this tendency, it is perfectly just and legal to hire less qualified people before me, as long as they are brown (or, sometimes, female). Any attempts at reform of this practice will immediately brand me a 'racist,' ensuring my permanent removal from serious political debate forever.

It is perfectly acceptable for a woman to strike me, in public or private, because of the centuries of gender-based oppression that I helped to establish and support. However, if I strike back I will be arrested and villified.

If my wife and I divorce, it is assumed that she will get the children and the house, no matter how selfish or crazy she might be. At best, I might get 'joint custody' and see them on weekends or summers. In addition, I will be expected to pay a special tax to the woman contemporarily called "child support." Ostensibly, this archaic tax was originally used to help support the children; the more common modern use is to pay for nice things for the woman. To help pay for this tax, I will have to work harder and for longer hours, and thereby seem distant and uncaring towards my children, retroactively justifying the tax.

In light of all this, why should it surprise or bother anyone that men have no say in whether a fetus sees the light of day, whereas women do, and even if he doesn't want it to he still has to support it if it does? Seriously, why is this even an issue? It's pretty secondary to the other bullshit we put up with already.


By Blogger Dan Collins, at Sat Mar 11, 03:07:00 PM:


The only principled answer is that if the father wishes to raise the child, no abortion should be permitted, if he accepts sole financial responsibility for the child and can pass muster with a government adoption agency.

The government keeps a lien against his souped-up Impala for a probationary period.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Mar 11, 05:05:00 PM:

Guessing Vermontaigne hasn't actually given birth recently. I have -- more than once and quite intentionally -- and let me tell you, I absolutely adore my children, but nothing has made me more staunchly pro-choice than the experience of pregnancy and parenting!

How do you suggest this hypothetical prospective adoptive father compensate the mother for assuming the risks of carrying and delivering the baby? Does he also agree to adopt her other (already extant) children if she bleeds out? Would he have any right to? Or support her parents who depend on her financial assistance? Does he compensate her if she has lasting physical damage from the delivery -- nerve damage, joint damage, pubic bone separation, etc., -- pregnancy is a trigger for a host of medical complications including but by no means limited to rheumatoid arthritis, bone necrosis, diabetes, and cardiac conditions. Does he make up the difference in her salary if she needs to take disability leave due to pre-eclampsia or other pregnancy complications?

What if the mother would not agree to this particular man raising her child -- if she has some personal insight (perhaps not provable in a court of law) not evident to a "government adoption agency"?

What if there were unknown facts at the time the "father" made this decision -- facts about the health of the baby that were medically knowable but that he could not know b/c he could not compel prenatal testing (or maybe in your world, he could)?

Could he then also compel her to breastfeed . . . or to express (i.e., pump) breastmilk to confer immunity and other health benefits? Would it make a difference if the baby is born prematurely and every small benefit could make a lasting difference in the outcome for the child?

I don't know. I don't think there's much principled about comparing apples and oranges in the first place. Or in ignoring the fact that mothers (as well as fathers) have responsibilities to their children following birth.

In law school the professors were always setting up the tension between "fairness" (i.e., the treatment of a single individual in a case or under a policy) and "efficiency" (i.e., the "public" good of a particular rule or decision). I think it's fair to say that the rules about parental support flow from issues of efficiency (those in the best position to prevent the costs should bear them). Questions about gestating fetuses are really questions about personal liberty and self-preservation. Just as we can't compel organ donation, we can't compel pregnancy continuation.  

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