Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Tierney's Fatherhood Initiative

John Tierney is the Men's Rights Activist on the New York Times. Or an activist for anything that can possibly be seen as putting women down. A weird guy.

His last column recommends gender equality in pregnancy. No, Tierney is not offering to carry fetuses to term in the linings of his stomach. He argues that men should have the right to a "financial abortion". In other words, if a man gets a woman pregnant he can then argue that he doesn't want the child and may skip paying child maintenance. I couldn't figure out if Tierney would extend the "financial abortion rights" to men who happen to be married to the women they have impregnated, because by the column's end he has backed off from this idea, noting that it has a few teeny weeny problems. Like totally ignoring the rights of the child.

This is what Tierney says on the issue:

Judge Samuel Alito is a reactionary - at least according to feminists horrified by his notion that a woman can be required to notify her husband before an abortion. But Alito's critics in the Senate face two big obstacles this week if they try to make that label stick.

The first is public opinion. Most Americans tell pollsters that they think a husband should be notified before an abortion, and the Pennsylvania law that Alito approved was hardly a draconian version of that principle. It merely required a woman to say, without presenting any proof, that she'd told her husband. If she said she feared physical abuse, she was exempted.

The second obstacle is the logic of feminism. Spousal notification has been denounced as retrograde by the same advocates who have been demanding gender equality in the workplace and at home. If men are expected to be parents with equal responsibilities, shouldn't they at least be allowed to discuss whether to have a child?

This is an easy question for those on the pro-life side of the abortion debate. They'd like men to be not only notified of pregnancies, but also given veto power over abortions.

Being pro-choice, I don't agree with that position, but I admire the logic. It's a gender-neutral policy: if either parent thinks it's wrong to end the pregnancy, then the pregnancy must proceed.

If the pro-choice side adopted a gender-neutral policy, then either the man or the woman would have the right to say no to parenthood. I don't know of anyone advocating that a woman be required to have an abortion, but there's another right that could be given to a man who impregnates a woman who isn't his wife. If the woman decided to go ahead and have the child, she would have to notify him and give him the option early in the pregnancy of absolving himself of any financial responsibility for the child.

I bolded out the bit which shows Tierney's true colors. First, pro-lifers don't believe this; they believe that nobody has the right to terminate a pregnancy. The most extreme ones believe this to be the case even if the mother will die giving birth. Second, that Tierney added no mother's-health exemptions to his statement demonstrates that he doesn't think at all about how the child is actually created: in the mother's body, at the expense of her energy and at her pain and possible risk of death. In many countries giving birth is still the major health hazard women face.

And this is where we come to the problem with Tierney's whole argument: the process in which he demands equal dibs for men takes place in a woman's body, and it is she who bears the risks. Until the day comes when prospective parents hand over their sperm and egg to the laboratory technician when they want the child everything Tierney says is academic.

Now to something more serious: The question whether current abortion laws are unfair to men. There are two different questions in this, I believe, and they are the right of men to become fathers and the right of men not to become fathers. I'm not sure if any of us has the "right" to be a parent, actually, but until parthenogenesis is perfected for humans every single person wanting to be a parent must find someone else to contribute; either by the direct addition of sperm or eggs or via some form of adoption. None of us can legally force this other contributor to contribute, and that includes men.

But it is really the right of men not to become parents that Tierney speaks about, and I do have a lot of sympathy for a man who is led into having unprotected sex in the belief that his partner is taking oral contraceptives and then finds that he is going to be a father, with a monthly payment for the next eighteen years. A lot of sympathy. It is wrong to con people into parenthood.

Though doesn't this sound familiar in reverse? How many times have I read or heard about a man saying that he will pull out in time, that one never gets pregnant on the first time around and so on? Having sex is a risky business if you are absolutely sure that you don't want to be a parent, and anyone concerned about this would be well advised to take care of contraception themselves. This is actually a lesson many women learn quite early in life, and it is a good lesson to all our daughters and sons.