Readers Write: Birth Control and 'Men's Rights'
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In her July 26 AlterNet article "The Difference Between a Womb and a Wallet," writer Kai Ma agreed with the recent court dismissal of the "Roe v. Wade for men" case, in which Matthew Dubay fought for his self-perceived right to not financially support an unplanned pregnancy with a partner who had incorrectly told him that she was infertile.
But in an Aug. 1 counterpoint to Ma's piece, "Respect a Man's Choice, Too,", men's rights advocates Glenn Sacks and Jeffery M. Levin offered an opposing take on men's financial responsibility toward unwanted offspring.
Sacks and Levin attempted to debunk Ma's assertion that a "woman's decision to terminate a pregnancy is not the equivalent of a man's choice to financially opt out of fatherhood." Unpredictably, AlterNet readers of both the Point and Counterpoint op-eds were on the fence, frequently along gender lines.
In response to "Respect a Man's Choice, Too," reader Madam Hatter began the discussion with a reminder that it's not just fathers who are required by law to pay child support:
What these father's rights types fail to recognize is that women can also be held responsible for child support -- just like they can. If they abandon or even lose their children to the kids' dad in a custody fight, women are ordered to pay child support too.
It's pretty obvious to me what this guy's problem is by his not so subtle wording, i.e., "when men are saddled with child support obligations" and "the burden of child support.
Another reader, Sec55, comments that s/he agrees with the judge's decision to throw out the Dubay case but urges abstinence as the easiest way to avoid complications of unwanted pregnancies:
Basically, I agree with the judge's decision in this case. If it had gone the other way, it could have provided an excuse for almost any man to opt out of his parental responsibilities just by claiming she messed up or misrepresented herself ... But if you're asserting that women shouldn't be held accountable in any way for unwanted pregnancies, it's a completely untenable position ... there's another solution to this whole problem, too. It's simple, safe, free and 100 percent effective -- don't engage in any type of sexual activity that can produce children. Better yet, wait until you're married, have a good job and can provide a stable home in which to raise them. (Conservatives aren't wrong about everything.)
And AlterMO presents his controversial opinion that women be required, by law, to inform their partners if they get pregnant -- and to obtain their partners' consent before deciding to have an abortion:
Why shouldn't a woman obtain permission from her partner for an abortion? There are laws in many (if not all) states requiring girls under a certain age to get permission from parents or the court. The same should be standard for adult women with regard to the potential fathers ... As someone who suspects a former partner aborted our child -- I can't determine for certain because I have no right to push the issue, and she simply refused to discuss the matter other than saying "nevermind, everything's OK" -- I was shocked I had no way to even be informed of the abortion, let alone block it ...
I'd actually support a points-like scheme where a woman getting an abortion who doesn't have the consent of the biological father receives a negative point on record. If she later gives birth to a child, and a dispute over custody/support arises, that negative point will be considered when awarding custody ...
But other readers weren't keen on that sort of arrangement. User Ezilla, for one, takes issue:
Men and women DO have equal "ability" to prevent pregnancy. Both sexes are equally capable of not participating, or of selecting a form of birth control. Just because women have MORE options, does not mean that men's ability is hampered ... I don't advocate no sex. But by having sex without taking responsibility for preventing an unwanted pregnancy, you are assuming responsibility for any consequences (i.e., babies) that may result from your actions.
Responding to another comment about why there are still no hormonal birth control options for men -- such as the Pill, the Ring or Depo Provera -- reader HH sarcastically asserts: "Drug companies are driven by PROFIT, not by a bunch of patriarchs who spend their time saying 'Gee, let's dream-up new ways to make life a living hell for women!'"
There ARE individuals who are pressing for what you describe; there are pills of that kind in the testing phase. Just because you've never heard of it doesn't mean that it doesn't exist.
But a reader called Mizkaye doesn't see it that way, retorting:
Drug companies making the pills ... run by men. Insurance companies covering Viagra but not birth control pills ... run by men. The majority of lawmakers trying to outlaw abortion and other birth control options ... men. The major heads of the religious right funding these politicians ... men. Sex of the shooters that have killed abortion docs and/or bombed their clinics ... men. The heads of drugstores and the majority of pharmacists refusing to fill BC scripts and morning after scripts ... men. As for the male birth control pill in testing right now ... I have heard of it actually. I also have seen the polls that say most men don't want to take a pill, and I find it ironic that the length of time between development of a female pill and a male pill is almost 50 years. Why did it take so long? They developed a pill to help men get it up before they developed one to help them control what was coming out of it ... they put the cart before the horse don'cha think?
Dedicatedfather begs, "Give me a break. Feminists scream for equal rights as long as it doesn't affect their free choice. Why don't we all get FREE choice?" (We're not sure why he chose to capitalize the word "free," but we're all for his personal "choice" to do so.)
And reader Cordas seconds the notion of equal reproductive rights and choices for both genders, bemoaning the lack of consistent contraception for men: "Condoms ain't perfect; they have been known to SPLIT ... Women DO have far more control available to them, and I for one can't wait for more options to become available to men."
Readers weighed in with personal stories, too, laying out beliefs that parents need to be involved -- at least marginally -- in their kids' lives, and that kids have a right to know their biological families (and vice versa). Billjv comments:
When I was 18, I had a brief dating relationship with a girl, and we had relations during that time. We stopped seeing each other after about a two-month period, (never engaged or married) and at that time I left to pursue a job that left me on the road for a year. Although she had every means to contact me, she did not. Finally, almost four years after that, she contacts me to tell me I have a three-year old child with her ... this completely threw my life into a spin. That was almost 20 years ago now, but the one thing that I always said and felt about this matter is that THE FATHER HAS A TIMELY RIGHT TO KNOW IF A BABY IS BORN THAT IS LEGALLY HIS ...
If a woman decides for years not to tell the father of that child that he is the father, [then] she has (by not notifying him via some type of registered document) taken responsibility for the child herself, and that she has chosen to absolve the father of financial responsibility for that child. To come back years later to claim his money/support and huge back judgements is not at all fair to the father.
A gay reader, Wallart2006, weighs in with a comment titled "I'm glad I'm gay," claiming that perhaps straight couples need to tackle parenthood with a stronger sense of personal responsibility:
It seems we homosexuals have a lot less to worry about in this area than heterosexuals ... Maybe if they thought about how homosexuals go about having children, heterosexuals wouldn't get into these predicaments so often. But, then, just thinking at all would solve a lot of these problems ... I'm just saying that children are not accidental to us. And, when we do have children, we don't have the law or society to protect our rights as parents.
Writer Kai Ma took child-rearing very seriously in her original article, "The Difference Between a Womb and a Wallet." Ma's July 26 story provoked Glenn Sachs and Jeffery Levins' aforementioned Counterpoint piece -- as well as a host of lively responses from feisty AlterNet readers. As Ma writes, "... If men are the ones who have reproductive responsibilities, why are 10 million single mothers in the United States living with children under the age of 18? Sure, women have choices, but only at a price for which there's no male equivalent. We can choose whether we want to be mothers, but we have no control over how the experience of motherhood will physically alter our bodies, nor how it may limit our mobility or careers."
Responding to Ma's story, Aladdinsane starts off the reader discussion with a bang:
I think everyone agrees that it would be better for a child if daddy paid up. There is no doubt about this. It is, however, a simple issue of equal rights. A woman has a choice to keep or absolve all responsiblity for a child. A man has none ... It's a basic issue of equality. I think any man who would abandon a child is a miserable sack of crap, but I think that he should be GUARANTEED the equal opportunity provided to women.
Caitlin responds, ahem, colorfully to the idea of "equal choices" in the face of the biological realities of conception: Men and women do not have the same choices in this matter because the burden is not the same. A man, if he wishes to avoid fatherhood, can wear a condom, or he can have a vasectomy, or he can just friggin' pull out .... But once the fetus exists inside of the woman's womb, that is the end of the man's choices.
But let's go ahead and assume this asinine idea that a few hundred dollars a month is the equivalent of carrying a pregnancy to term. Then what happens? We will end up with lots of kids with dads who didn't want them, who grow up in poverty ... because some dude didn't want to use a condom? Give me a bloody break .... Don't blame women for this -- take it up with biology and/or the Creator if you have such an issue with it.
A reader named Willie shares details of her personal story -- what it taught her about sex and adulthood -- and serves as a voice of reason, reminding us that deciding whether to carry an unplanned pregnancy to term is always a difficult decision:
I have had three abortions. I am not proud of it. I was young, I was dumb ... I have always felt a great deal of compassion for men who want to keep their child but the mother does not. There is no easy answer for this. There never will be. It is up to the two individuals, and that's all that can be done about it. Until men can reproduce, however, it will continue to be the woman's choice. But please don't think that makes the woman's choice any easier. It's not.
Regarding the Dubay court dismissal covered in Ma's article, Willie insists: "We're human, we make mistakes. Sometimes we have to pay for those mistakes. It's in the paying where we grow into decent human beings."
Later, reader VannaLeroche chimes in with her own story, as well as her theory about why folks still want babies in an obscenely overpopulated world:
I never had "baby hunger," and I do not understand why women in this population-strained world just HAVE to have a kid, to the point where some will have IVF babies that suffer prematurity and birth defects .... Mothers say 'I don't know, I just wanted one," or "When it happened, I changed my mind and wanted the baby." What? Are women in thrall to their reproductive hormones to the point of pathological duplicity? Are they excusable on that basis?
I suggest that, other than a wedding day, pregnancy is one of the only times in which it seems that everyone in the whole world is concerned for your health, emotions and overall well-being. It's a way to not be invisible in the world ... To have an effect. To Not Fade Away.
And reader Sushi shares her story of getting "permanent" birth control -- tubal ligation -- when she was 19:
At 12, I decided that I didn't want children, and at 19, with good medical insurance at my job, tried to get off birth control pills by pursuing a tubal ligation. I was turned away every time until, finally, at 30, I had the procedure ... At 52, I look back on it as one of my best decisions. No regrets. No drama. No ties to some guy I was hot for when I was 24. No cannon fodder for Bush's oil wars.
Ducklady replies to this with a cheer of encouragement: "Amen, sister! If you don't want to become a father (or mother), then take the necessary precautions."
Unfortunately, aside from that trace of positivity, there wasn't much support or encouragement among the readers of Ma's provocative piece. On the contrary, some readers felt it appropriate to use Kai Ma's piece -- and the subsequent reader discussion -- as a sounding board for tired anti-feminist ideas. As user Digitalspy writes:
If a stupid woman can't manage her own body, then why should her failure become the man's responsibility? A lot of feminists' ideals go straight out the window when it comes time to leech into a man's wallet. This whole issue seems to me like an admission from the women's side of the aisle that they are unable to get by and live their own independent lives without a man's assistance.
Yikes. And reader Lolahbelle concedes:
I totally have to agree with the men on this one. As strong, independent women, let's act a little bit responsible. We can't have it both ways. We have to give men some choice here as well. Responsibility means, first off, not lying to our partners ...
To which a reader calling herself clzatzman jumps in:
I have had children, and I have had an abortion. I now have a tubal ligation. The mother will have ultimate responsibility -- unless she hands the child off for adoption, in which case OTHER people will absorb that responsibility. MAN makes the choice to become a father, whether willingly or "unwillingly," the moment he chooses to have unprotected sex. This article speaks to the man (Dubay) having only known the woman for THREE months and agreeing to unprotected sex because she said she was infertile AND using contraception. I hate to say this, but he seems the ultimate in gullible to me. If I know for sure I'm infertile and cannot conceive, why on this good earth would I shove poison into my body to prevent a pregnancy that cannot occur? What was this man thinking? I suspect he was not thinking at all ... he was letting hormones rule his behavior. He ALWAYS had the choice for contraception -- even if it came down to choosing abstinence as the guarantee."
And Mazel agrees with the notion that Matt Dubay must have suffered from extreme gullibility:
Matt Dubay needs a scarlet letter "S" for "SUCKER." Let his story be a lesson for all men who don't want to pay child support. Stop relying on your partner for birth control! I feel very bad for the child in this situation -- a mother who is very possibly a conniving bitch and a father who is a tight-fisted moron. An abortion was probably a good idea.
... Another set of complementary AlterNet articles eliciting fevered debate among our ever-spirited readers. Thanks to all who participated!
Laura Barcella is an associate editor at AlterNet.