An Abortion Right for Men

An Abortion Right for Men

In a response to Ross Douthat, William Saletan of Slate lays out a system for coping with the consequences of modern sexual freedom:

Many liberals think money is the sole problem. They believe that if we bolster employment and incomes, our cultural woes will be solved. I disagree. I think Douthat is right that we need cultural corrections, too. One of those corrections, in my view, is an ethic of sexual responsibility. My version would be almost as strict as Douthat’s. But it wouldn’t reject contraception. It would incorporate it.

Here’s the short version. First, for men: If you put your sperm anywhere near a woman’s reproductive tract, you had better be prepared to raise a child with her. Your ejaculation is your signature on a contract authorizing her to carry any resulting pregnancy to term and to enlist you as the father. If you aren’t prepared to sign that contract, ejaculate somewhere else. Don’t complain later that you weren’t consulted about subsequent decisions. The only decision you get is the one at the outset.

For women: Protect yourself. Unless you’re prepared to be a mother, never have any kind of sex that can lead to pregnancy without using effective birth control. (The same goes for men—even more so, since they have no right to intervene once they’ve deposited sperm.) Do this for yourself, for your partner, and for the child you might conceive. Contraception is awesome. It empowers you to postpone maternity till you’re properly situated. Using that power isn’t just a right. It’s a responsibility.

That's certainly a good way to act, but I can't help but notice that this system -- which seems to endorse the current legal regime -- is profoundly unfair once you remember that "subsequent decisions" can include abortion. Women are granted complete control over not only their sexual behavior (as men are) but also their reproduction: Once pregnant, they can decide to abort without consulting the man, and if they choose to have the child, the government will require the man to pay child support.

Yes, the pregnancy naturally occurs within the woman's body -- which is why an abortion veto doesn't make sense in a country that allows abortion for the purpose of protecting a woman's privacy. But in an era of sexual freedom and sexual equality, why should a woman have the authority to "enlist you as a father" when you have no right to enlist her as a mother?

Charles Murray has suggested one way of addressing this problem (though he presents it as a way to reduce out-of-wedlock births): Tie men's obligations to marriage. In this view, if a man isn't a woman's husband, she has no right to collect child support from him. Alternatively, we could simply allow men to "abort" their child-support obligations, so long as they notified the mothers soon after learning about the pregnancies. Katie Roiphe has seriously explored (without endorsing) possibilities along these lines.

These are harsh proposals, with ramifications for child poverty, parental responsibility, and abortion rates. I'm not endorsing them by any means (I've called myself "basically a pro-lifer"), but I am saying they're a way of reconciling women's complete reproductive freedom with the modern conviction that men and women should be equal to the greatest degree possible.

Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen

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