Thursday, March 17, 2005

Choice 4 Men?

Amy Alkon and Hugo Schwyzer are going to be debating "Choice 4 Men" this Sunday on Glenn Sacks' radio talk show, His Side. (If Alkon's name sounds familiar, it may be because of my classic bratty response to her Victims Gone Wild piece. I did end up liking Alkon, even though I don't always agree with her.)

Anyway, Choice 4 Men is the argument that unmarried men should be able to opt-out of fatherhood, including financial responsibilities. Here is the show's promo, which I found via Schwyzer's blog (where there's also a good discussion going on):
Nationally syndicated advice columnist Amy Alkon believes that men, like women, should have reproductive rights. Condemning women who get pregnant intentionally and "turn casual sex into cash flow sex," she notes:

"In no other arena is a swindler rewarded with a court-ordered monthly cash settlement paid to them by the person they bilked...Penelope Leach, in her book Children First, poses an essential question: 'Why is it socially reprehensible for a man to leave a baby fatherless, but courageous, even admirable, for a woman to have a baby whom she knows will be so?'...the law, as written, encourages unscrupulous women to lure sex-dumbed men into checkbook daddyhood."

The "Choice for Men" movement seeks to give unmarried fathers the right to relinquish their parental rights and responsibilities within a month of learning of a pregnancy, just as mothers do when they choose to give their children up for adoption.

Feminist Gender Studies professor Dr. Hugo Schwyzer, Ph.D calls Choice for Men "profoundly offensive," noting that it "seeks to give men the right to evade responsibility for the children they help to conceive."
Both Alkon and Schwyzer make good points. Just like choice for women, choice for men is complicated. There's no easy answer. But for lack of a perfect solution, I would support choice for men. There must be a cost attached, though-- an incentive to not impregnate women.

There are already incentives for women not to get pregnant. Abortion is expensive and painful, not to mention it is not a real choice for those personally opposed to it. I'm not going to go down that road in this post.

Adoption has its costs as well. Think of all the time, money, and bureaucracy a woman must go through to get her kid adopted. Plus, she has to endure the pregnancy. Others are going to notice she's pregnant, and they'll be sure shake their fingers at her. And then they're going to want to know what the heck happened to her baby! Yes, there are stigmas attached to giving a baby up for adoption. People will say, "How could you do that?"

So men should have choice too, but it shouldn't be as simple as just signing a piece of paper. There should be a fee of some sort-- one that is large enough to be a deterrent. And since the state would be involved, I'm sure there would be a fee, plus a lot of bureaucracy to go through.

As far as "dupes" go, that is fraud and those people should be punished under the law. Birth control failure is not fraud. It's only fraud if someone lies about being on birth control. In a court of law, the burden of proof falls on the plaintiff (which, in this case, would be the male.) But if more male birth control options are developed (and I hope they are), men too could be guilty of fraud according to this philosophy. If a guy lies about taking the male pill and the woman gets pregnant, she should be able to sue him.

Obviously, prevention is the best action to take. We need to push for the development of more male birth control options. In addition, emergency contraception for women needs to be available over-the-counter. (Note that emergency contraception does not cause abortion; it works in the same way that traditional birth control pills do.)

I'd like to hear others' thoughts on the choice issue. I'm not set in my ways by any means. I haven't been able to come up with a perfect solution, but it seems to me that there should be some alternatives for men.

Comments:
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I’m the anomalous single dad with legal and physical custody of my kids, but I'll throw in my two cents. As it stands, Roe v. Wade does not consider paternal rights at all and will likely remain that way. It seems only fair to allow the sperm donor to opt out during the same time period that the potential mother is able to. Granting sole power of choice to the female is unjust. A consensual sex act ought to be complemented by consensual choice. If both parties agree to have the child, then both are equally liable for it’s welfare until the age of majority…at least that’s my view.
 
I'm certainly with you, at least in theory, on matters of fraud. I do have some concerns about the practical difficulties in attaining any reasonable standard of proof in such cases, but perhaps it's not necessary to dirty this discussion with practicalities. Also, we don't need to wait for reversible male birth control for the fraud to go both ways; men can and presumably do lie about having had a vasectomy.

But I'm not sure I grok the logic behind this "men need an incentive to keep their sperm to themselves". It smells like a Pigovian tax - how does that fit in with your free-market-ness?

In theory, the current setup places half the cost of a child on the father's shoulders; dunno how it works out in practice. But I assume that under your proposed system, the fee men pay to absolve themselves of paternal rights and responsibilities would be considerably smaller than 18 years of child support - so who pays the rest? The mother, or the taxpayers?

I do think making sure that all parents have chosen to be parents is a worthy goal, though I don't think it's as important as the rights of the unplanned child. But I also think any "opting out" should be done before having sex, not after. Little contracts in every box of condoms or whatever.

For one, if abortion were unacceptable to me, I could refuse to have sex with someone unwilling to help support any resulting child. For two, if my decision to have an abortion were contingent upon the father's abdication of parenthood (and I imagine many women feel that they could raise a child with some help, but not completely on their own) I wouldn't have to wait for the father to make his decision before scheduling an abortion; I could take mifepristone right away rather than having to get a D&E if he got cold feet at the last minute. It's better to make these decisions beforehand, when you're not racing to beat a biological clock.
 
I've got to say that I find it abominable that men have essentially no rights in the decision making process after conception, but do have plenty of responsibility. This isn't because I'm a man and don't want responsibility. Instead it's part of my belief that the corollary of individual rights is individual responsibility. When you have one, or the other, but not both, then you have an irrational situation, leading to irrational behavior.
 
The basic reasoning behind women having the rights about deciding whether to carry a child, is that men are not the ones taking the risk. Childbearing is hard and physically demanding; childbirth includes a potential risk of surgery, physical injury, or death for the woman. I believe the current rate in the U.S. is 17 percent of attempted births end in maternal death.

No person should be able to force another person to face this risk. Much as I can't command you to climb Mt. Everest, you can't command me to have a baby--or the collary, have an abortion once I'm pregnant. That would be to give you power over my body that is unacceptable in a free society. No human being should be able make a choice like that for another human being. It is simply wrong.

However, I can see some potential for injustice for men being forced to pay child support for children they did not agree to have. I think there is room for legal agreements between consenting adults that would free men from such obligations, should birth control fail or be forgotten.

But if you don't sign such an agreement, I don't see how you can prove fraud over failure in birth control, and thus have an out. Such is the risk of having sex, unless you wish to have a vasectomy. It is a risk women take too--and believe me, even if the court decides in her favor, the rates of women successfully collecting full child support are abysmal. Along with more failsafe birth control for men and women, legal agreements that clear up this area might actually help women as well as men.

All such agreements must be made before conception occurs, however, in order to preserve the basic human rights of women to control their own bodies.

And I haven't seen anyone (male) comment on their approach to birth control--if you don't take any measures and the women fails/lies to you about her measures, well, it's sperm donor beware, too. No good blaming her if you didn't bother to use protection, you know.
 
Yami,
I certainly wouldn't want to give the government too much power in this situation. I would view it more as this: what does a guy have to pay to get out of a contract? I've only taken a couple law courses, so I'm no expert by any stretch. But I *think* this is how it works:

When a single woman has a child, she can name a father on the birth certificate. I think that makes him the legal father, unless he contests it and proves he's not the actual father. So basically, the law is recognizing him as the father, and therefore we need the law to unrecognize him as the father-- a termination of rights and responsibilities.

Maybe it's late and I'm getting delirious, but now I'm starting to think of it like filing for bankruptcy. You have to pay to file, but it's a lot cheaper than paying off your debt. So filing for "child support relief" can't really be free either (since the state is already involved). There is a cost to asking the state to relive you of financial responsibility. Gosh, I sound like a socialist!

But you know, that's why we shouldn't have give the government all this power in the first place... it's a viscious cycle.
 
Eric,
I agree that dads tend to have very little rights, and a lot of financial responsibility. That is basically state-sanctioned sexism. Not only is it denying rights to fathers and children, but the state is implicitly endorsing the idea that women should take care of babies. You know, the ol' mommy raises 'em, daddy brings home the bacon thing. It sounds like Robert would disagree that only women are capable of raising kids.

Emjaybee,
The biological realities are undeniable. I agree that no one should be able to force a woman to carry a child or abort a child. Well, I mostly believe that. I think there comes a time when a fetus has rights (plus late-term abortions are risky for women), but I can't go down that road. That's too complicated for my measely blog, and abortion is an issue that will probably never be resolved for me. I think it's the result of Catholic indoctrination during childhood. But I am pro-choice/personally opposed, for the most part.

And yes, it would be hard to prove a "dupe". Both sides can certainly be duped. I mean, a guy can lie about having a vasectomy. I only addressed that point because it was in the promo. Most of the time, I bet birth control simply fails or openly isn't used. The former is no one's fault, the latter is the fault of both parties.

Another factor in the debate is that the woman would need to know real soon if the guy is going to opt out. Choice 4 Men is proposing only a one-month window of opportunity to opt out. I think that's reasonable.
 
I'm not arguing that men should have decision making rights over the pregnancy. What I am arguing is that individual rights and individual responsibilities are two sides of the same coin. When you only have one of those two things present then you create an irrational situation. If you wonder why men make irrational decisions after conception it is because of that situation.

By the way, at this point in my life I am married, with children, in a monogamous marriage. Birth control is not an issue from a responsibility perspective, although it is important since we don't want to have more children but we are both reluctant to make permanent physical changes. We choose to use condoms. When I was single I chose to use condoms. But I'd kill for a daily pill. Of course, I happen to be a big proponent of individual responsible behavior, I would be a hypocrite if I didn't take responsibility prior to conception.
 
"What I am arguing is that individual rights and individual responsibilities are two sides of the same coin. When you only have one of those two things present then you create an irrational situation. If you wonder why men make irrational decisions after conception it is because of that situation."

I think you are exactly right there. The same argument often applies to custody after divorce. The kids are assumed to be just mom's kids-- she usually gets custody.
 
While I recognize the necessity of creating laws to protect people who "beat the odds" (birth control failure), make poor decisions or no decisions at all, I [sigh] HEAVILY on this one.

I'm a woman. How do I make sure I don't get pregnant? Two methods of birth control at once. Usually the pill and a condom. Sometimes three methods.

Male OR female, if YOU want to make sure condom use is done properly, YOU buy them (to make sure they are of good quality, unexpired, and untampered with) and YOU wrap the weenie up with them.

Do I sound mistrustful of my sex partners? I rather don't care if I do. Having to deal with an unwanted baby is a big enough consequence for me to take full responsibility in preventing unplanned pregnancy.

As a woman, I can't go out there, have sex without being aware of what (if any) protection is used, and then say, "I put my ovulating reproductive organs out there - how was *I* supposed to know that a baby would come out of it? Oops!" Why should a man be able to have sex without being aware of what (if any) protection is used, and then say, "I put my wriggly and virile sperm out there - how was *I* supposed to know that a baby would come out of it? Oops!" Neither person should be able to throw their hands up and wash their responsibility away.

Mistakes happen, but one cannot absolve themselves of responsibility just because an act was a mistake.

I'm taking the fun and spontaneity out of sex, but sex is an act that creates children. You will never, never, never escape this fact. And you can never escape the possibility that a baby may be the outcome of any sex (even if birth control is used) you have. That is the responsibility any adult bears in using his/her sexual organs.

How about this? Both male and female sexual partners are responsible for ensuring adequate (two methods) birth control was properly used in any sexual encounter. If the parents are not a couple, the baby was unplanned, AND one parent cannot raise the child without child support from the other parent, the other parent is entitled to raise the child with child support from parent #1. Hopefully this would play out as described below.

- Mother wants to raise unplanned baby but can't afford to do it on her own. She tries to sue father for child support.

- Father feels duped into paying for child support. He can opt to sue for physical custody of the baby and to receive child support from the mother (thus she's on the financial hook for 18 years).

If there isn't at least one parent who wants physical custody of the child (but can't go it alone, financially) and the other parent willing to pay child support, the baby becomes eligible for adoption into a home that can care for it and is financially self-sufficient. Why should taxpayers foot the bill when there are childless families out there who are eager and able to care for a baby? The waiting list to adopt a caucasian baby is more than a decade, I believe.

In this case, unless the child is put up for adoption, neither parent can "opt out" of their responsibility to the child, but they can certainly exchange one kind of responsibility (the child-care and rearing) for another (writing cheques). Frankly, you are responsible for the consequences of what you do with your genitalia. Full stop.

17% maternal death for all attempted births sounds very, very high. Did you mean 1.7%? If almost one in five pregnancies ended in the mother dying, I'd decide right here on the spot against ever having children.
 
Red:
Moneylending is more or less an efficient market, though, and the risk of bankruptcy has already been accounted for in the interest rate. Bankruptcy filing fees are designed to help the government recoup its overhead cost, not to provide an incentive for people to pay their debts - the market does that. When you default on your loans, it's the other borrowers who pay, unless the lender has badly miscalculated (in which case they pay).

By contrast, when you default on fatherhood your debts are paid first by the mother (who can arguably be said to have chosen that risk) and possibly her support network, but when that runs out, the remaining costs are foisted on society - it's either state-sponsored welfare or the social costs of child poverty. I'm still not sure what the libertarian mechanism is for legitimizing such foistage. Maybe we just need to create a market for child support insurance?

I also don't think a one-month window is reasonable. Figure five weeks after your last period to notice you're late (if you have a regular cycle), confirm the pregnancy, and send an overnight certified letter; one month after that, you're nine weeks pregnant and can no longer abort by mifepristone or menstrual extraction (small-diameter vacuum aspiration). I could maybe see a week to ten days. But I just don't see what's so special about being able to run off after conception, vs. making arrangements beforehand, that women should be stuck making such time-sensitive decisions without knowing the father's choice.

Also: the rate of maternal death in the industrialized world is about 1 in 4,085; in sub-Saharan Africa, it's 1 in 13 (source).
 
I think the first thing to remember is that this whole hubbub is damned near a moot point. The *vast* majority of fathers who run out on their kids never suffer any consequences anyway. Why? Because they have nothing to give. They are poor, like the ladies they knock up, which means there's nothing to be gained by taking them to court. But, just for argument's sake:

1. Every male with half a brain knows that a consequence to shoving his Johnson in some girl is a pregnancy. And you just have to be a tad bit smarter to know that birth control is not 100%. Sooo, the libertarian in me says the responsibility falls equally on the parties because they are equally responsible for the act that leads to the pregnancy.

2. I am reminded of the Seinfeld where Elaine is interviewing guys to see if they are sponge-worthy. If, and I'm only saying *if*, the male is to be allowed a "get out of paternity free (or close to free) card", I side with emjaybee in saying that an agreement should be reached *before* the act takes place. Males, in their search for consequenceless sex, would interview ladies. It might go something like this:

"So Hot Mama, it seems like we're about get it on. I know we're gonna use condoms (I brought Magnums), but if our tawdry affair leads to you getting pregnant, this contract here says that you'll absolve me of any parental rights of said baby. You down with that, sweet thang?"

Or...in the reverse, with the lady trying to make sure that, in the event of an unwanted pregnancy, the man will help out:

"Before you get my panties off, let me just run this here contract past you. Now, I'm on the pill, and you're using them Magnums (though it looks like a lot of rubber left rolled up), but if we get pregnant, I need to know that you're gonna help out with the baby. Just sign here and let the sweet lovin begin."

Suuuuure. It's absurd, but that's about as far as I'd be willing to go in letting males out of their responsibility. The bottom line is that the difference in treatment of men and women reflects one startling fact - the sexes ARE different. Yes, that's right, which means that the same rules across the board have different consequences, just like equality in the workplace still leaves women earning less than men.
 
"Every male with half a brain knows that a consequence to shoving his Johnson in some girl is a pregnancy." You're sooo romantic. This is really a modern problem, one where new (and better-world-making) ideas like libertarianism and romanticism clash with the truths that every peasant fool knew. But, see, I'm a romantic--I think shoving my johnson in a girl (we try hard to come up with better terminology that still avoids Lifetime-movie land)involves an implicit contract. It doesn't mean marriage or care of children, necessarily, but it's "I'm pretending that you're sane." If I'm wrong there, my fucking problem--it's what I get for finding you so johnsonable. This happens, and I don't see any reason why I should be off the hook: that is, keep the law out here--it won't, and shouldn't work.
 
Yami,
You are correct that bankruptcy fees are not intended as a deterrent. (My "contract" analogy was much better in that regard, and I should have stuck with it!) However, I think the fees connected to bankruptcy have the EFFECT of a deterrent. I was once so poor that I could barely afford to live in my trailer anymore (hence the name "Redneck", haha. I do own a house and some land now.) Anyway, I almost filed for bankruptcy at the time. But I couldn't come up with the cash to even get through the preliminary stages, let alone hiring a lawyer and getting the time off work to attend a hearing. There were so many bureaucracy hoops I would have had to jump through. And since it would destroy my credit for seven years, I decided that the collective costs were too great. Of course, that was also the right thing to do: take responsibility for my own debt, even though I was poor and starving.

Likewise, financially supporting a biological child is usually the right thing to do (adoption is an exception). But should the state be able to FORCE us to do the right thing? I'm not so sure. Yes, we should take responsibility. But is there absolutely no way out? Do we have no further choices?

I know what it's like to feel a lack of control over my own destiny, and that's why I empathize with Choice for Men. Dad's destiny is in the hands of whatever choices Mom makes. I'm not suggesting a man should force a woman to abort or not abort-- this is NOT about her bod or her pregnancy. I'm just talking about after that-- what rights/responsibilities does he, as a dad, have? Perhaps if dads had more rights, Choice for Men would be less of an issue.

I also agree with Enlightened Caveman that it's usually the poor men knocking up the poor women. Then we have the state chasing after these guys who can't pay anyway. So I'm not so sure Choice for Men would have the effect of more single moms being on welfare.

And speaking of the welfare state... what a can of worms! I don't even support the one we currently have. I could make a whole blog post about this. My argument basically comes down to the one I make in my current (3/24/05) post: government shouldn't be the new husband.

Now that you mention it, though, I'm sure there could be a market for child support insurance!
 
Robert Young, you are correct that the law probably won't work. The problem is that it's not working now, either. The state chases after "deadbeat" dads (and moms!) for child support that these people can't or won't pay. Some even get incarcerated. It's sad when all we have are state-state options.

I do agree with the arguments that Karen and almost everyone else make about the responsibility thing. I'm not completely set on Choice for Men. It just seems odd that one parent can give a child up for adoption, while the other cannot.
 
So I'm not so sure Choice for Men would have the effect of more single moms being on welfare.

The evidence shows that it would.

According to a study by Chien-Chung Huang (Social Service Review, June 2002, p 275-301), data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth shows that states with strong child support enforcement have lower unmarried birthrates, even after controlling for differences in income, religion, schooling, family structures, etc. "Improved child-support enforcement reduces nonmarital births by 9.9 percent and increases marital births by 7.2 percent. The estimated proportional improvement in nonmarital birthrates for women age 20 or older, white women, and African-American women is 17.4, 3.8, and 13.4 percent, respectively. The increase in marital birthrates for these groups is 7.4, 6.9, and 3.8 percent, respectively." (This is a much larger measured effect on the unmarried/married birthrate than welfare has, by the way).

There's no good reason to doubt that reducing men's responsibility will increase the number of single moms; and single moms are statistically much more likely to need welfare than married couples.
 
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