In a recent piece for The New York Times entitled “Forced Fatherhood Fair?”, Laurie Shrage argues that men who involuntarily impregnate their partners should not be forced to pay child support. After all, abortion has empowered pregnant women to choose whether or not to become mothers. If women have that choice, Shrage asks, why should men be forced into fatherhood?
As I read the piece, I could not help but worry that the pro-choice movement might have done its job too well.
The article is based on the widespread notion that modern motherhood, in Shrage’s words, is a “voluntary condition.” According to this argument, blasé women visit the abortion clinic as coolly as they might enter the beauty salon.
The idea that women’s reproductive lives are free and easy is egregiously incorrect, and highly dangerous.
The choice to abort is seldom taken lightly, and often in circumstances of great turmoil. The procedure is physically uncomfortable and many of those who abort – even pro-choice women — are surprised at the emotional pain they experience after the operation.
Moreover, it is entirely false to imagine that all reasonable women are willing to end their pregnancies. Too often, feminists foolishly dismiss pro-life arguments as male chauvinist nonsense. We must remember that many women have serious moral objections to abortion. Is it really so difficult for us to understand why some might find the procedure abhorrent?
Let’s be frank: abortion is not another form of contraception. It is a morally grey procedure, necessarily legal because of the highly tumultuous circumstances that so often surround unwanted pregnancies. Most women do not elect to abort lightly; rather, they often do so because sometimes there are no other options available.
Against this backdrop, Shrage’s picture of disadvantaged men forced to pay child support by a matriarchal society seems less convincing.
Overwhelmingly, it is for women to cope with the consequences of sexual relations. It is women who carry the child to term, and women who deal with labour pains. It is teenage girls who worry their lives are over, and out-of-work waitresses who wonder how they’ll get by.
Shrage is worried for the men who have to send a cheque once a month? Cry me a river.
Furthermore, it is fallacious to argue that men have no reproductive choices. Implicitly, a man who has sexual relations with a woman chooses to potentially father a child.
Shrage’s followers might counter that women have abortions as a last line of defence, whereas men have no such option. Reproductive autonomy, they might claim, is asymmetrical. This argument may seem logical, but it falsely supposes that the sexes are equal. Women have the right to choose because it is they who lose their bodily autonomy during pregnancy. Men have no such choice because they make no such sacrifice.
We all have our reproductive crosses to bear. Women must cope with birth control side effects, abortion, and adoption. Men, if they choose not to actively parent their children, must face the reality of child support payments. They can’t just love ‘em and leave ‘em: their actions have consequences, and they must face them.
Devyn Noonan is a third year English student at Trinity College.