Topic: Society

The Ethics of ‘Roe v Wade for Men’

Matthew Dubay is the plaintiff in a creative law suit claiming “reproductive rights for men.” Under the auspices of the National Center for Men, a men’s rights group, the suit asserts that forcing a man to support a child he has fathered is a violation of the principle of reproductive choice as articulated in Roe v. Wade. Dubay’s Equal Protection clause argument is that the law unfairly permits a women to choose not to be a parent after procreation, but men have no such options. The suit is a key tactic in the agenda of the National Center, which has authored a “Reproductive Rights Affidavit” that reads in part:

I will not recognize the moral authority of a court to strip me of my constitutional right to reproductive choice. I will challenge any court order that seeks to impose a parental obligation upon me against my will by asserting my right to equal protection of the law.

Good luck on that one, guys. Tweaking the laws to encourage even more men to be irresponsible about fathering children is neither good public policy nor good ethics. The general rule that a child raised by its mother must receive financial support from the father is consistent with personal responsibility and the welfare of children, and if Dubay thinks any court will unsettle those principles, he’s deluded. Still, his doomed suit may do some good if it encourages scrutiny of some of the legal and ethical anomalies in the kind of unwanted pregnancy that sparked the controversy.

For Dubay claims that he was duped into being a father. His girlfriend allegedly told him she didn’t want children, said she was infertile and claimed was using birth control as well. She was lying on all three counts, and he is now paying court ordered child support of $475 a month. Conceding that the faked infertility scenario is difficult to prove, if Dubay is telling the truth, he has a valid complaint. This fraud, while old as the hills, is still a fraud. It is manifestly unjust for Dubay to be liable for a lifetime of child support payments if the mother intentionally tricked him into fathering a child. She is the one who behaved unethically, yet he is the one with an unwanted burden.

Even the usually appropriate response that a father must be responsible for taking even a negligible risk of creating life doesn’t apply here. Infertile is infertile. (Granted, gullibility might apply. Why was she using birth control if she was really infertile?) Would Dubay’s most ethical conduct be to volunteer to pay support for the innocent child he fathered, intentionally or not? Absolutely! But should the law compel him to pay? Remember that the law usually establishes the minimum acceptable standard of conduct while ethics defines good conduct. Society doesn’t exact penalties for conduct that isn’t exemplary, just for conduct that is objectively unacceptable.

The approach of the law is that the welfare of a child trumps any consideration of a father’s rights or interests. Bruce Boyer, the director of the child law clinic at Loyola University Chicago School of Law who was interviewed by the Chicago Tribune on Dubay’s situation, declared that “this shouldn’t be about him and his rights; it should be about and the child’s needs.” Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, has said, “There is a consistent and strong policy in this countryÂ…both parents are responsible, whatever the sins and deceptions of either parent.” The apparent disconnect here should be obvious. The child’s welfare trumps the rights of an unwilling and deceived father, but the child’s life won’t trump the rights of the mother. Under current law, even Dubay’s girlfriend, who plotted to have the child and was 100% responsible for its conception, could have terminated her pregnancy at will and for any reason at all. Is the child’s welfare paramount or isn’t it?

Living would seem to be a significant component of welfare.

Here the debate becomes skewed by the convenient politically-mandated mantra that the child isn’t a child until it’s born. That discussion will have to wait for another day, at least on the Scoreboard. Still, the argument for the mother’s absolute right to abort a pregnancy and the argument for the father’s absolute obligation to support the results of it are inconsistent. Dubay’s lawsuit, which asks that the law permit fathers to opt out of responsibility for any children they conceive when mothers carry pregnancies to term against the father’s wishes, asks too much by asserting a parallel to Roe v. Wade. Even though current abortion law allows mothers to avoid the consequences of irresponsible conception, allowing fathers to do the same simply compounds a wrong.

But there is a better parallel. The nuclear response of abortion advocates to anyone advocating a total abortion ban is that it would obviously be a cruel and uncaring policy as applied to the victims of rape and incest. This powerful argument has confounded anti-abortion absolutists for decades: accept it, and they forfeit their position that abortion is always wrong; reject it, and they appear to be unfeeling and detached from human reality. If a woman plots to use a deceived sex partner as an unwitting sperm donor, clearly it defines the point where the logic and justice of holding both parents absolutely responsible for the resulting pregnancy breaks down. The mother has used the father as a mere substitute for a turkey baster, and his legally enforceable obligations should be the same as a turkey baster. Women have a right to choose to be single mothers. The decision to conceive a child against the express wishes of a non-spousal sex partner should be regarded as that choice.

Yes: Dubay’s conduct would be especially ethical and admirable if he chose to support his child. But it is wrong for the mother who deceived him to insist on it, and unjust that the law requires it.

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