Should Men Be Able to Opt Out of Parenthood? Yes, but Not Yet

Becky Bracken

If a woman gets pregnant, wants to keep the baby, but her partner isn't interested in being a father, should there be way for the man to opt out of parenthood and the financial responsibility the courts say come with fathering a child? Sure, dudes have rights, and I'm sympathetic -- but the world at large (especially here in America) has to be more supportive of mothers before we allow dads the ability to cut physical and financial ties.

A recent news headline from the New York Post illustrates one extreme end of the argument. Ron Ozner, a rich hedge fund dude dated model Elmira Naymark for more than two years. She got pregnant and decided to keep the baby. He's not interested in being a father, and offered her up to $75,000 to have an abortion, which she refused. But now the baby is here, and Naymark is hauling Ozner into court for the cost of private schools, summer camp, and a $5 million life insurance policy, an amount, which she has decided, according to court documents, is "proportionate with [Ozner's] vast wealth and income."

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Looking at the tab Ozner's facing to raise a baby he didn't want in the first place, it would be easy to argue that women hold a disproportionate amount of power in decision making over having a baby, and sticking a father with the bill.

And, while this situation might not be the typical case, there are those trying to make it so men like Ozner can, in fact, opt out.

In Sweden, a law was proposed earlier this year that would allow a father to have a "male abortion" -- which would allow him to sign away both paternity rights and, more importantly, financial responsibility for a child before the 18th week of pregnancy. The mom might still get the baby she wants, or couldn't bring herself to abort, and the father gets to move on with his life, no strings attached. And, in a perfect world, that could be a practical compromise, but the world we live in at the moment is far from perfect.

First, let's take a moment and reflect on the fact that nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. each year are unplanned. That's almost 3 million pregnancies a year and involving a full 5 percent of all women of reproductive age, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Thanks to new laws being passed in states like Ohio that restrict access to both safe and legal abortion and access to affordable contraception, women are left to grapple with the worst of all possible outcomes.

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Do we try and risk our health and financial future by having a baby that wasn't planned? Or do we try and jump through all of the hoops and restrictions put in place by so-called "pro-life" legislation to access and safe and legal abortion?

Women, it turns out in America, have very little power should she and her partner create a baby. And in the US, the land of "small government" and complete distaste for "hand outs," money talks.

Prenatal and maternity care costs money, diapers cost money, day care costs money, and -- when we go to work -- let's not forget that we earn 78 cents on the dollar for our efforts. So the only means in many cases for women to have a baby, because the system has intentionally rendered them helpless, is to find some sort of sponsorship from someone with economic power. In other words, a father.

It's a crappy deal for dads, too, who are viewed by our system as earners and little more. Paternity leave and destigmatizing men's involvement in child-rearing could go a long way in making that dynamic more equitable, as well.

But the point is that, in reality, women who find themselves pregnant in today's America are left with one, and only one, move in many cases. To get the father of the baby to pay his fair share. That's it. That's what we've got.

And, let's be clear, the reason the courts go after "deadbeat dads" and are willing to put fathers on the hook for paternity isn't out of some interest in promoting families. The Guttmacher Institute points out two-thirds of unplanned births in the U.S. were paid for by the government through programs like Medicaid. Putting fathers on the hook was part of Bill Clinton's "welfare reform," and is nothing more than a way to cut those costs. It has nothing to do with giving mothers or women any kind of power or independence over their reproductive lives.

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Which is why a law that would let dads opt out of the only responsibility they have would have the real-world impact of taking away the only means of raising a child many women have. Want to change that and make things more equitable? Let's talk. But we have to start with policies like paid maternity leave, affordable health care, a childcare safety net, and equal pay, all of which would give mothers the power and the opportunity to actually raise a child by themselves, without having to rely on a father to foot the bills.

There will always be cases like Ozner's and stories out of the NBA that describe rookies being taught to flush condoms down the toilet so women can't use their contents to impregnate themselves. And there will always be people, both men and women, looking to separate wealthy people from their money with any number of scams and cons. 

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But to use these stories to paint women as using pregnancy as a tool for power and control is ridiculous. Being a mother in today's America is a scary proposition and puts women in a tenuous position. To pretend that taking away their right to get a father to pay their fair share for a baby they participated in creating isn't the way to make things more fair.

And to the men complaining about the financial risk of unprotected sex, I submit the same advice women get from the time they're little girls:  If you don't want to have a baby, abstinence is the only surefire form of contraception.

 

 Image via Pixabay 

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abortion, fathers, single moms, women's issues