L. Neil Smith's
Number 359, March 19, 2006


No better time for 'Roe v. Wade for Men'
by Scott Kauzlarich

Special to TLE

If a single woman decides to have a baby against the wishes of the father, neither he nor anyone else should be held responsible for supporting the offspring. That this bit of common sense is not the law of the land rankles me.

Imagine for a second that the roles were reversed. What if women were not allowed an abortion or an adoption unless the man consented? And if the man did not consent, the woman would be forced to support the baby for 18 years. You'd pay even if the man doesn't need financial help. You'd pay even if he takes the child to the other side of the country. Sound oppressive? This is precisely the situation men find themselves in today.

But perhaps that is going to change.

Last week the National Center for Men filed a lawsuit on behalf of a man who wants to terminate his unwanted parental obligations. Dubbed "Roe v. Wade for Men," the lawsuit argues that if women have the right to choose, men should have it as well.

The media and its legal eagles tell us that the case has no chance. Even the plaintiff, Matt Dubay, says he doesn't expect to win. Yet, no one outside the pro-life movement (no one gets a choice) seems to be able to form a coherent argument against a man's right to choose.

The intersection of this issue with the recent decision by South Dakota to overturn the original Roe v. Wade is intriguing. Pro-choice individuals can't oppose male choice without risking their credibility. From an exposure standpoint, the timing of the lawsuit is perfect -- Roe v. Wade for Men is already being pulled into the larger abortion debate. Of course, much of the exposure is negative, but that tradeoff is acceptable since the bad publicity is largely based on emotion and illogic.

Seven arguments against male choice

If men don't want the obligation of children, they shouldn't have sex. Since the "keep it in your pants" argument applies equally to females, it simply echoes the question as to why she gets a do-over and he does not. No female choice advocate can take this stance without destroying their own position. Only pro-life groups can get away with this line of reasoning.

This also puts critics in the bizarre position of holding males to a higher sexual standard than females. As anthropologist Desmond Morris was fond of pointing out, male biology is not well-designed for chastity and to expect males to defer sexual gratification more than females runs counter to human nature.

This is just a way for "dead-beat dads" to weasel out of child support. This argument, with its loaded phrases, will carry more weight, although it ignores the real issue. The question is whether, in the same timeframe that women can choose to abort the obligations of conception, men can terminate their obligations as well. Men who agree to pay child support and fail to do so are not let off the hook in any way. Assuming that all men who father a baby owe child support begs the question.

This will allow everyone to avoid their responsibilities and chaos will result. Actually, this lawsuit returns the focus to self-responsibility, at least on the part of the woman. No longer will she be able to count on 18 years of coerced support if she decides to give birth. This will also factor into her decision-making prior to conception. Men who agree to take on the parenting role are doing so voluntarily, virtually eliminating the problem of "dead-beat dads."

This will throw innocent children to the wolves. Letting men opt out doesn't mean the streets will fill with abandoned children. The children have mothers who freely choose to have them, indicating that she is ready willing to raise the child alone. If she cannot adequately do so, she can abort the child or give it up for adoption. Talk of throwing children to the wolves is an attempt to play on emotion.

It's about the rights of the child. The National Organization of Women takes this approach. Since NOW and other women's groups are often strong advocates of legal abortion, injecting the rights of the unborn into the debate is hypocritical. When a woman has an abortion, pro-choice groups ignore the rights of the unborn child.

You can't compare abortion to this. Why not? Abortion allows a woman to escape the consequences of her sexual actions. Therefore, the law must allow men a similar escape. The women's rights group Legal Momentum says restricting a woman's right to an abortion is an "extreme government intrusion." Garnishing a man's wages for 18 years is pretty intrusive too, but apparently, government intrusions are okay if they benefit women.

If fathers don't pay, the rest of society has to pay more. This is a case of two wrongs not making a right, and it misses the main issue as well. It may be true that the rest of us will assume some of the cost currently forced on unwilling fathers. But that merely brings up the question of why the state forces anyone to pay for someone else's childbearing choices.

It sounds strange to say that a man should only support those children he wishes to support. But in the end, this is asking for nothing more than what women take for granted. To say that we should force men to support children they don't want because it lessens the burden on society is simply a good reason to lift that burden from the rest of us too.

Male choice is good for everyone except women

By subsidizing irresponsible reproduction, the state has turned it into a growth industry. From an economic point of view, it's the inevitable result of cost shifting. By lessening the cost of sexual activity through state-enforced child support and welfare programs, the woman can shift the cost of her reproductive choices onto others. In doing so, the government invited a boom in out-of-wedlock births, which is exactly what happened.1

I am not trying to let men off easy. Men should pay the true cost of their reproductive choices. But since women can now shift their burden, men are paying a distorted and inflated cost. By allowing men to opt out, we are merely moving back towards reality in terms of price. Men and women would both be supporting only those children they wanted and could afford, meaning for women, they would have to now weigh the true cost of any baby they might have. Women's groups who oppose male choice are not as interested in children's rights as they are interested in allowing women to maintain a reduced fee in terms of procreative activity. They will frame the debate in the opposite terms, claiming that it is men who want a free ride. This is not the case -- what men seek is simply equality.

The great benefit to society in accurately pricing the cost of a child is that it will reduce the number of illegitimate offspring. This collapses the argument that we must force men to pay child support in order to lessen the costs to society. By reducing single-parent births, society will save far more than by continuing to fight with unwilling men over child support. It is also true that anyone interested in child welfare should want to reduce the number of illegitimate children. Offspring who are provided for via government coercion suffer higher rates of crime, poverty, and other difficulties.

It is hard to remove government from things like this because every social problem is a golden opportunity for the state to grow and expand. Government leeches onto social distress and milks if for all it can. But Roe v. Wade for Men has a logical appeal that is hard to deny. If the issue is pressed, it could result in a repeal of harmful state action in an important way.


1. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, births to unmarried mothers rose from 10% in 1970 to 34% in 2003. Other studies indicate that in 1950, at the outset of the AFDC program, only 4% of births were to unmarried mothers.

Scott Kauzlarich is a professor of Social Science at Ellsworth College in Iowa Falls, IA.


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