POINT: The Difference Between a Womb and a Wallet
Millions of men are forced to financially support children they never wanted. Matthew Dubay, a 25-year-old computer technician in Michigan, decided that he shouldn't have to do that.
Dubay didn't want to pay child support for the daughter he conceived with Lauren Wells, his 20-year-old ex-girlfriend. During their three-month relationship, Dubay allegedly told Wells he wasn't ready to have children, and she replied that she was infertile but using birth control anyway. After they had unprotected sex, she got pregnant and chose to raise the child. Dubay promptly received a court order to pay $500 a month in child support.
On his behalf, the National Center for Men filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Michigan last March, contending that if a woman has the legal right to abort, give up for adoption, or raise a child from an unintended pregnancy, a man should be able to choose to decline the financial responsibilities of fatherhood. The case, nicknamed "Roe v. Wade for men," equates a woman's decision about her body to a man's right to decide whether he wants children. Last week, U.S. District Court Judge David M. Lawson dismissed the lawsuit, writing in his decision, "[Dubay] had difficulty accepting the financial consequences of his conduct so the state came to his assistance." Still, the NCRM, which plans to appeal, has managed to provoke a national conversation about "reproductive rights for men."
From the beginning, the case was a longshot. The courts have never sided with men like Dubay, believing that a child's interest in receiving financial support from two parents outweighs a father's claim of being duped into financial responsibilities for which he was unprepared. Matthew Dubay has sparked debate over whether men can claim the right to terminate all parental responsibility, based essentially on the verbal equivalent of an informal prenuptial agreement.
Glenn Sacks, a commentator on father's issues who supports Dubay, recently wrote, "When it comes to reproduction, in America today women have rights and men merely have responsibilities."
But 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.
During a planned pregnancy, a man doesn't have to struggle with the fact that his body and life will change drastically. He will not have to endure physical pain; he will not have to decide whether to breastfeed for more than a year. If he decides to avoid a pregnancy, he will not have to take daily doses of estrogen and progestin, and so endure the side effects of nausea, bloating and headaches. He will not inject himself with Depo Provera, or afix to his skin the hormone-infused Patch, a contraceptive thinner than the warning label it comes with.
There are women out there who claim to be on birth control when they are not, who promise to have an abortion if they get pregnant, and then change their minds. There are even women who poke holes in their diaphragms or, perhaps like Dubay's partner, claim to be infertile when they are not.
But for every woman of that sort, there are men who, in different ways, lie, deceive, break their promises, or pull a 180. There are men who agree to marry but don't, or refuse to pay child support and are deadbeat dads. Dubay claims that he has been trapped into financially supporting a child for 18 years. What about the millions of women who find themselves trapped into single motherhood for life with, often, next to no recourse?
Dubay's suit was always more of a provocation, than a case. In the court of public opinion, he has attempted to expand the concept of reproductive rights by replacing the pro-choice motto, "My body, my choice," with "my wallet, my choice."
I wish my womb were as simple as his wallet. A woman's decision to terminate a pregnancy is not the equivalent of a man's choice to financially opt out of fatherhood.
A man does have choices. He can choose not to be part of his child's life. But he shouldn't be able to choose to abandon that child in the lurch. Financial support is necessary to sustain a healthy existence. Compared to raising a child alone, forking over a few hundred dollars a month is a small price to pay.