A Matter of Choice

Some time back there was a fellow in the news named Matt Dubay, a man who was claiming that Michigan’s paternity law is unconstitutional because it didn’t give him any ‘choice’ in whether to become a father.

The interesting thing about this suit is that it points out the inherent contradiction’s in the current legal understanding of sex in the United States. On the one hand, a woman must be given a ‘choice’ as to whether or not to be pregnant after she has already conceived, and so abortion is legally mandated. On the other hand, a man is considered to have already made himself financially liable for any children conceived from the moment that he has sex. Thus, in the man’s case, US law recognizes a traditional understanding of what sex is (an act that can naturally be assumed to be fertile) while in the woman’s case sex is merely considered an act which may bring on a transitional condition in which a woman has conceived yet has not yet decided whether or not she wants to actually be pregnant.

Clearly, being pregnant (and caring for a child) is a far, far greater burden for a woman than for a man, so one can see how (thinking with its heart rather than its head) our country got itself into this position. But it’s still a pretty untenable position to be in. Clearly, one must say either than sex is an act which has the inherent potential to create another human person, or it is not. One of these positions, of course, has the benefit of being true, while the other might be convenient for some, but is quite provably false.

However, while I do believe that the law should protect a newly conceived human being from her mother’s second thoughts just as thoroughly as it does from her father’s, it does seem to be that there is a hierarchy of claims to parenthood of the child in situations where a man and woman conceive outside of wedlock. Currently (at least from what female coworkers who have dealt with these situations tell me) if a man can prove that he is the father of your child, he has (unless this is somehow considered dangerous) both financial duties to you and visitation rights to the child.

This seems to me a little off. If a woman is willing to claim a certain man as the father of her child (and if there is any question about it, if tests prove her right) then it seems fair to me that he be both required to take some financial responsibility for the child and also allowed to have visitation rights or shared custody. However, if the couple have never been married and the woman wishes to refuse to acknowledge the man as the father of her child (even if biologically speaking he is) it seems to me to be reasonable to allow him to exclude him from the child’s life, assuming she also does not try to seek money from him.

This may not be ‘fair’ in the sense that many use the term (as in, treating everyone equally regardless of whether that makes any sense) but it does seem to me to make a certain degree of sense.

Though on the devil’s advocate side (or the libertarian side — in this case they are one and the same) there is a certain sense in which allowing any demand for child support from a man to which one has never been married weakens the importance of marriage as an institution. If a woman need not be married to a man in order to be assured that she can hold him financially responsible for any offspring she may have with him, than being married before having sex is at least somewhat less urgent.

In the words of The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy: “To summarize the summary, people are a problem.”

18 Responses to A Matter of Choice

  • Steve says:

    The duplicity of the law simply reveals how far decriminalized (statutes can never “legalize” what opposes natural law) abortion strays from any semblence of logic, reason, or intellectual honesty.

    Such a schizophrenic policy emanates from the core principle of the culture of death: bodily autonomy. They claim an absolute right of total license with their bodies, even to the point of killing another human being.

    What’s interesting here is that for so long, the pro-abortion movement depended on the lie that a fetus is not a human person. Ten or fifteen years ago, I was certain that advances in ultrasound technology would bring a swift end to abortion. But a funny thing happened along the way: The lie that a fetus is not a person so fully entrenched our national twin addictions to sex and convenience that even now that it’s overwhelmingly clear when life begins, we still will not bring an end to abortion.

    More and more frequently, the pro-aborts admit that abortion takes a human life. As a culture, we’ve simply declined to the point where we don’t care about killing as long as our personal appetites are satiated.

    As Dr. Nathanson said, “If you elevate autonomy to a deification status…then people are going to make choices which are irrational…”

  • M.Z. says:

    This is a case where I believe technology has made things worse. In the “good old days”, there was no such thing as a paternity test. An allegation of paternity was evaluated on probability. So if the couple had been say engaged, the allegation of paternity would have been convincing. On the other hand a one night stand would not have been sufficient grounds to establish paternity.

    What we have presently is what amounts to a claim of marriage. Consider that in modern times with both couples working, there typically are no obligations for spousal support and even when granted they are typically ended within 5 years. So in a typical divorce, the argument is over child support. (Yes, division of community property is there, but in the case of out-of-wedlock pregnancy, there is typically very little community property.) As much as other people are prone to disagree with me, I think ending child support outside marriage would be better for society. Perhaps allow fathers to make a paternity claim to get visitation rights and obligations of support. In the end though, the greatest beneficiary of the child support regime has been government, since the payments have moved a number of children and their mothers out of poverty.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    MZ,

    good points actually. In principle, I agree with you on eliminating out-of-wedlock support, but in practice, it would add to the economic argument for abortion.

    We’re caught between a rock and a hard place on policies to both discourage out-of-wedlock children by increasing the stigma and/or reducing support, while at the same time trying to reduce abortion (aside from important efforts to outlaw it).

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    Mothers shouldn’t be able to kill their children by abortion and Fathers should not be able to renege on their duty to support their offspring. The law is right when it mandates child support. It is terribly wrong when it allows the destruction of innocent human life in abortion. Of course the wish to evade child support and the desire to kill an inconvenient child in abortion both spring from the hard-hearted self-centeredness which is one of the hallmark features of the times in which we live.

  • M.Z. says:

    You can either make the family the guardians of children or you can make the mother and the sperm donor guardians of children. We used the former approach for a long time, entrusting single mothers to the support of her parents. We have tried the latter approach in the name of women’s liberation and feminism for the past 2 generations. We know that this hasn’t benefited children. Abortion is more common today than it was two generations ago, indicating that child support hasn’t saved pre-born lives.

  • Gabriel Austin says:

    I know a fellow who had his lawyer write to his girl friend when she became pregnant. He disclaimed any obligation for the child because she could have the child killed legally.

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    Ending child support would merely lead to more kids on welfare or growing up in extreme poverty, and doubtless increase the rate of abortion to some degree. I see no reason why a man engaging in sex does not have a moral duty to support the kids he produces. He certainly has a legal duty and that is not going to change, and most certainly should not change in my opinion.

    Gabriel that letter would have the same legal effect as the attorney sending the lady in question a blank sheet.

  • M.Z. says:

    I see no reason why a man engaging in sex does not have a moral duty to support the kids he produces.

    How thoroughly feminist of you. Of course there is no such thing as supporting the kids, because the kids don’t enjoy agency. In fact once the kid gets agency, the support is removed. The question is why is a woman entitled to a third of a man’s paycheck for sleeping with him?

  • Matt McDonald says:

    There’s good points on both sides. The problem is we have an inconsistency between the legal rights and obligations of men and women with regard to sexual behavior.

    I think the problem with trying to resolve this without eliminating abortion as an option is that it’s playing with dynamite. Eliminating legislated support for unwed mothers by their bio-dads and/or the government will encourage abortion. Abortion being much worse than unwed pregnancy, I think it’s not the right thing to play with.

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    Feminism has nothing do with child support. A man and a woman when they create a child have duties to that child and that includes supporting the child financially. The common law action of bastardy to establish financial support of a child born out of wedlock had nothing to do with feminism, which wouldn’t arrive on the scene for several centuries, and everything to do with a child not living in poverty because he had the misfortune to be born to parents who were not married. Between a man who wants consequence free sex and a child who needs money to be taken care of, I am always on the side of the child.

  • Elaine Krewer says:

    Not to mention cases in which a woman insists on having an abortion over the objections of a father who IS willing to take responsibility for the child. In this case the father is denied HIS “right to choose” to be a father.

  • Foxfier says:

    Not to mention cases in which a woman insists on having an abortion over the objections of a father who IS willing to take responsibility for the child. In this case the father is denied HIS “right to choose” to be a father.

    This can even happen in a marriage.

    Shoot, five years ago it was happening on TV shows– promoted as a “great” choice.

  • Donna V. says:

    And what about serial single fathers – men who have fathered numerous children by numerous mothers? Should they bear no responsibility?

    Abortion is already a boon for irresponsible men. Freeing them from having to pay child support would really be icing on the cake. There would be no downside at all to siring children out of wedlock. Whether she has an abortion or not, he gets off scot-free. Heads I win, tails you lose.

  • Foxfier says:

    Abortion is a boon for irresponsible men because they know they are unlikely to be stuck with a child; enforced child support for out of wedlock children (in some cases, *after* it has been proven that the guy paying couldn’t be the father) does exactly the same for women.

    Remove either one, and the supply of the relevant sex willing to risk supporting a child for some 20 years (as parents can be held responsible for college loans) goes down.

    Least impact on existing kids with highest impact on the future would to make a deadline estimated conception date, after which men have the same rights as women re: rejecting child responsibility.

    Everyone here know of that case with the guy who has some 21 children by multiple, unmarried women?

    How likely do you think it would be that they would risk pregnancy if it were actually a risk, instead of a paycheck?

    The eternal problem with gov’t helping those in need: there will always be someone willing to game the system.

    I’m not big on men being able to reject responsibility for their actions, but I’m really tired of women being excused from responsibility for their actions, too. I know I’m better than that, and barring some very powerful proof, I’m going to assume other women are, as well.

  • Foxfier says:

    On a side note: serial illegitimate fathers are the ones who are *least* impacted by child support laws. You have ten children by ten women, you report that you make $500 a month– or that you’re totally unemployed and on state assistance– they can’t take more than you officially make.

    When I was in the navy, I knew a guy who was *proud* that he gave “as much” as $400 a month to his “baby momma.”

    He only knew of the one biological son, and she had children by four other men; he was far and away the one sending in the most cash.

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