by Thomas Larson
Everyone knows—or should know—how burdensome a pregnancy is on a woman. It’s especially hard now if you live in Texas where a fetal heartbeat detected at six weeks means by law the woman cannot terminate her pregnancy; she must carry it to term. The burden of having a child, whether planned for or forced, is made worse by the financial responsibility of raising that offspring, for parents and families, through childhood and adolescence, the next eighteen years. Would any man argue that such a load, for poor women in particular, is among the toughest things she’ll ever face?
But there’s another Atlas-like weight on the woman: The Texas anti-termination law refuses to address the father’s role, which I think should be restated with typographic emphasis: He Is the Father of the Fetus. While some good men do share the many duties of parenting—pregnancy, birth, and the child’s life itself—many men don’t. They flounder and flee. The stats for deadbeat dads (estranged, separated, divorced) are appalling: 30% pay nothing and 50% are forever in arrears. (As a consequence, close to 85% of custodial parents are mothers.) Is it right to force a woman to have a child when there is one in three chance that the newborn will not be supported by both parents?
I propose that we add another provision to the Texas law or the Supreme Court’s all-but-certain decision to modify or overturn Roe v. Wade. First, the Texas law should stipulate that the father of each child, in gestation or in the world, must be identified by a DNA test and by the mother. Second, the father—by court order—must pay for child-rearing over the next eighteen years.
Let’s make a conservative estimate, say, $1200 a month per child, which would be split if both parents are custodial or paid largely by a noncustodial father. Around $15K per year per child for 18 years amounts to a quarter million and sounds fair but also sounds like the bare minimum. What about a savings account or a college fund? What about unforeseen debts, credit card charges, accidents, the costs of divorce or relocation? How do we bleed a turnip, the donnée with most deadbeat dads—unemployed, broke, in jail, on the lam? Where are the laws to protect mother and child from the no-count fathers?
There are great and intended consequences to this law of fatherly accountability. Even if the woman puts the child up for adoption, the father still has to pay a decent sum to the new parents, at the very least, acknowledging his fiscal responsibility. That will encourage adoptions, particularly of unwanted children, if financial aid is guaranteed from men and not the government. As I’ve said, nearly every woman and her family contribute to the child’s welfare. With this “father’s law,” I doubt women will assembly-line babies like Honda Civics just to afford a stay-at-home existence. The woman who blackmails men by conveyor-belting children is a ludicrous idea. The actual reason, which the claim obscures, is that the man, like the Lone Star State, has forced his way on a vulnerable woman.
The more I examine the advantages, the more they grow. Our slipping longevity rate, attributable to poverty, the shitty American diet, and deaths of the unvaccinated, may get a boost from a rise in planned births. Think of the possibilities of men’s earnings being garnished—for men! It’ll be tough on them, but they may begin to exercise sexual restraint, insist on wearing protection, converse with a woman about her fertility status (she can also take precautions) prior to sex.
There’ll be more discussions around consent since nonconsensual intercourse (rape) will mean prison and a lifetime of garnished wages. (Why aren’t men serving time for rape in the pro-life southern states earning money earmarked for children born of their assault?) I hope male aggression lessens, the Y-chromosomal esteem for stupidity retreats, and the violent bondage of blood sports, military adventure, and gladiatorial rings in corporations, fraternities, and Congress deflates—all of them knocked for a loop.
Perhaps the best outcome of all: Men in those Republican-led state legislatures will learn that if the father is held financially responsible for his role, then one way to manage the father’s burden is to codify a woman’s right to self-determination alongside the father’s right to a fair share in the decision to abort or not. I want these and other red-state lawmakers to acknowledge that if there’s personhood for the fetus, then, at the moment the sperm hits the egg, there’s also a unified father-mother co-parenthood. If we grant a constitutional right to personhood in the womb, then we grant the child the right to be co-parented outside the womb. Which takes love and money.
Before Texas-type laws go any further, we have to redefine a woman’s right to choose as a father’s right to have say in what she is or is not choosing and, especially, what the state in a world without Roe is forcing her to “choose.” No more, no less. Forcing a woman to bear a child when she can abort is criminal enough without the added crime of deadbeat fathers escaping financial justice.
In addition, we should fund court hearings where the DNA-ID’ed father can argue why he wants the fetus aborted—beyond his being broke. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in these procedures to hear thousands of women testify: “Your honor, the state wants me to carry this child to term a child whose so-called father didn’t show up today and who has no visible means of support. I will consider not having an abortion only if he and the court ensure that he’s on the hook for this boy or girl for the next eighteen years.”
Finally, unplanned and unwanted children can be adopted. But I think this just waylays a solution; separating mother and child adds another burden or punishment on the woman. Someday I hope we can say that reproductive rights are complex and each case may require a particular settlement. But each case should involve a mother and a father equally, though a woman’s right takes precedent over the man’s right. Why? Because women and their families seldom fail to attend financially and emotionally to the birth and the child-raising, or the abortion. Women also take precedent because men have finagled myths and laws and empty bank accounts, which, until now, give them an out.
Addendum to the addendum: I hear from NYU Professor Scott Galloway that two-thirds of relationships (quickies or longer-lasting) begin on Tinder. Primary to a man’s attractiveness is his education level: 92% of women want to date men with college degrees. Eight percent of males who use Tinder qualify in this regard. Thus, the male aisle in the dating market offers women not only narrow choices but bad choices if females must settle for second best, of which most “eligible” men on dating sites are (sad to say), second rate or distant thirds. Galloway argues that men short on education (only 40% of college students are male) and a professional degree have scant earning power; they are unlikely to provide for their children, wanted or unwanted.
Galloway calls these men the “most dangerous cohort in the world”—the involuntary celibate, the beer-belching bro, the Sunday NFL devotee, the lead-footed dude with a truck and a chainsaw. What’s more (and more tragic) is that many men are fatherless and possess few family models of what makes a good dad. Deadbeat-ness is in their blood. Even with a financial bounty ankle-strapped to fathers, imagine how difficult it will be to enforce that bounty? Might it be better, after all, to let women decide the fate of their pregnancies?