Eric Szkarlat: Pro-choice on child support

BY ERIC SZKARLAT

Published November 23, 2010

In 1973, the well-known U.S. Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade established a woman's right to choose to have an abortion. In 1990, my father wanted to have another child. In 1991, my mother chose not to terminate her pregnancy and I popped out.

But let’s travel to a fantasy world for just a minute in which my parents were unwed, my father walked out on my mother when he learned she was pregnant and she carried the pregnancy to term and raised the child. We’ve seen this scenario a million times, both in movies and in real life. We’ve even got a convenient, alliterative phrase for those men: deadbeat dads. To be one is to be looked upon with a special kind of disapproval — which is a bit of a double standard when you consider how many women who are unready for parenthood abort.

Women are often encouraged to make their own choices about terminating pregnancies based on their readiness. If a woman isn’t financially, emotionally or mentally ready to have and care for a child, she may abort. These aren’t the only reasons that women choose abortion, certainly, but they are enormous factors. Warren Farrell — a former director of the National Organization for Women, but later a critic of feminism — says that terminating a pregnancy is “female choice as female destiny.”

What about keeping a child? Farrell calls this “female choice as male destiny.” What he means by this is that if a woman chooses not to terminate, the man is both legally obligated and socially expected to provide for the child. Though this may not always happen, it’s expected that men carry their weight in support.

Both of these definitions lack key components, but they’re a starting point. Certainly both female choices affect the destinies of the potential parents and the child-to-be. But ultimately, we are still putting in the hands of women the power to decide the fates of 3 individuals. I don’t think that’s quite fair at all.

Instead, I’d support male abortion, advocated first by South Carolina attorney Melanie McCulley. This is an imperfect solution, but it’s the best we can do to ensure full social and legal equality where we have already accepted the validity of the abortive option for women. This way, men have just as much freedom to ensure their own destiny as women. And yes, to those “pro-choicers” retching in the corner at this point, it’s indeed about equality.

How would it work? Women would still choose whether or not to carry the child to term. Men would merely choose whether or not to provide for the child. They would not exercise any control over the woman’s body. Importantly, men would be required to surrender parental rights in addition to financial responsibilities. Essentially, it is the same as with female abortion: In the eyes of society, a male who has aborted would not be a parent at all. He would be given an equal window during the pregnancy to that during which women may decide to terminate. If he misses that three-month window, he would be legally obligated to provide support for the child during pregnancy and subsequently after birth.

But let me be clear: I said this is imperfect because it is. In my perfect world, everyone would take responsibility, especially for their mistakes. People should know before having intercourse that there could be life-altering consequences. No person should ever abandon or abort a child because having one would be inconvenient for them. I don’t think the child, or child-to-be, should have to pay for the mistakes of their parents. And of course, two parents are almost always better than one.

I’m of the opinion that a fetus is still human and still deserving of the same rights with which all other humans are endowed — among them, the right to live. I’ll let you pick whether life begins at conception or birth or somewhere in between, because that’s irrelevant. I believe the metaphysical, overarching right to live comes upon humans at conception, because it is at that moment that they are distinctly, genetically human.

There’s a big qualifier, eh? The alternative to the male/female abortion model would be to wipe abortion out altogether, with exception to endangerment of the physical health of either mother or child and cases of rape. But for now, since we are post-1973 and pre-any-other-decision-regarding-abortion, we can do our best to ensure legal equality of the sexes. Biology may not always provide you with all the options that you want to have, but society — as a human construct — certainly should. We can’t have true equality without the equal opportunity ensured to men by an abortive option.

Eric Szkarlat can be reached a eszkarla@umich.edu.