Sex Is Not a Contract: The Case Against Compulsory Parenthood

Should a man who accidentally impregnates a woman be compelled to financially support the resulting child? That’s the question that Laurie Shrage, a professor of philosophy and women’s studies at Florida International University, asks in an essay for The New York Times’ opinion pages.

Shrage makes some crucial points, namely that under current federal law men have less reproductive freedom than women:

“If a man accidentally conceives a child with a woman, and does not want to raise the child with her, what are his choices? Surprisingly, he has few options in the United States. He can urge her to seek an abortion, but ultimately that decision is hers to make. Should she decide to continue the pregnancy and raise the child, and should she or our government attempt to establish him as the legal father, he can be stuck with years of child support payments.”

This is key: If a woman gets pregnant, she can choose whether she wants to spend the next 18 years raising a child. If a man gets a woman pregnant, however, his future is entirely dependent on the woman’s choice.

And while allowing men to coerce women into having unwanted abortions would clearly infringe on the woman’s rights, there is a libertarian solution that would protect the rights of would-be fathers and mothers: Abolish compulsory parenthood altogether.

As Shrage argues:

“[J]ust as court-ordered child support does not make sense when a woman goes to a sperm bank and obtains sperm from a donor who has not agreed to father the resulting child, it does not make sense when a woman is impregnated (accidentally or possibly by her choice) from sex with a partner who has not agreed to father a child with her.”

Shrage seems to understand that to be consistently pro-choice is to support the rights of both father and mother to be free from the chains of compulsory parenthood.

No person should be required to financially support a child he or she does not want. The flip side of that coin is that no person is entitled to a relationship with the child if the child does not want one.

While a father should be within his rights to refuse to financially support a child, he should not be able to turn around and sue for visitation or custody rights.

Of course, some will argue that men who don’t want to pay child support are trying to shirk responsibility–that any man who willingly deposits his semen inside a woman’s vagina is signing a contract of sorts, the terms of which require him to financially support any child resulting from such a union.

But this is simply a variant of the same argument used by anti-choice conservatives to shame women who use birth control, except instead of “you should’ve kept your legs shut”, it’s “you should’ve kept it in your pants.”

As political philosopher Elizabeth Brake wrote in a 2005 essay, from which Shrage quotes: “[I]f women’s partial responsibility for pregnancy does not obligate them to support a fetus, then men’s partial responsibility for pregnancy does not obligate them to support a resulting child.”

To put it simply: If men and women are to be truly equal, they must both have the right to choose parenthood, or to reject it. Whatever sex may be, it should not be a legally binding contract to birth and raise any children resulting from the act.

This entry was posted in Marriage and Family, Reproductive Rights, Sex and Sexuality and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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