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    Monday, March 13, 2006

    Roe for Men

    Rebecca Traister discusses men's repro rights in Salon:

    Thursday, three days after Gov. Mike Rounds signed a sweeping bill that would ban almost all abortions in South Dakota, a men's rights organization called the National Center for Men announced it was filing a lawsuit nicknamed "Roe v. Wade for Men" in the U.S. District Court in Detroit.

    With the suit, NCM hopes to establish that a man who unintentionally fathers a child has the right to decline financial responsibility for that child, a right based on the same principles laid out in the 1973 case that made abortion legal. According to the argument put forth by the team behind the suit, women are afforded more choices about reproduction than their male counterparts, which violates the 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law.

    The NCM has been looking for an appropriate plaintiff for this case for more than 10 years. It finally found one in Matt Dubay, a 25-year-old computer technician from Saginaw, Mich., who claims he and his ex-girlfriend did not use birth control because of her assurances that she could not get pregnant due to a medical condition. But the couple, who Dubay told Salon were together for about three months, did conceive, and Dubay's ex elected to keep the child, for whom he now pays $500 a month in child support, despite his contention that he was always clear about not wanting the child. ...

    By phone, Dubay explained that he first approached the NCM with questions about his rights when his ex decided to have the child despite his objections. "I went to the National Center for Men looking for help," he said, adding that he is a supporter of abortion rights, though he feels men should have a bigger voice in the decision about whether to terminate a pregnancy. "I don't necessarily believe that men should be able to force women to do anything either way, but I believe their input should at least be taken into consideration," he said.

    Feit too, said he supports Roe. "Like many Americans I feel that there can be some reasonable compromises made about viability, somewhere between nine months and nine minutes," he said. "But yes, the concept of reproductive choice is a concept I support." Asked whether he, like many other "father's rights" activists, also believed that men should have a role in making abortion decisions, he said, "For single people, no. It's a woman's choice. Nothing we're doing seeks to deny women control. It is her body."

    He also made clear that his suit didn't aim to change the law so that fathers could jettison their financial or paternal obligations anytime they felt like it. Instead, he said, he has written up what he calls a "reproductive rights affidavit," which would allow a man to accept his responsibilities and rights to fatherhood or relinquish them for a one-month period after learning of his partner's pregnancy, giving the pregnant woman a chance to take his decision into account before she decides whether to carry the fetus, abort it, raise the child or give it up for adoption. But, Feit conceded, that monthlong window might even be a stretch. "Maybe a month is too long," he said. "Maybe it should be five days. A woman has to know his decision before she can make hers. It should be a very limited period of time. We should not give him much time at all." ...

    Feit acknowledged there is a critical difference between the right not to have to pay child support and the right not to be forced to bring an unwanted pregnancy to term inside your body. Decisions about parenthood are readily comparable for men and women until the moment of conception. But after a body becomes host to a fetus, a woman's choices become the final answer. And that explains a further difference between this lawsuit and the right to reproductive freedom for women: The cost of losing one is child support payments, and the cost of losing the other is dangerous, back-alley medical procedures and desperate, scared women unable to get the care they need.

    "Of course there is a physical difference," Feit said. "And I wouldn't want to minimize that. But I also wouldn't want to minimize a significant part of your livelihood being taken away from you for a quarter century. In the case of my client, there is this child, and presumably the child will be very smart and go on to postgraduate studies, and the client would be paying for a significant part of his life. I don't want to minimize that either." ...

    I'm actually all for this, as I've said before. It is really disturbing to me that this action doesn't have the support of feminists. That said, it is CRUCIAL that women have FULL reproductive choice before such a thing is implemented. As long as abortions are difficult for some women to get and as long as emergency contraception and RU-486 aren't readily available and as long as all of these measures are expensive, we aren't yet in a position to allow men to simply opt-out.

    This is all a fascinating situation then. A good deal of "Men's Rights" "activists" would love to see legislation passed to protect men from financial responsibility for their offspring. Wouldn't it be fabulous if these very men who go around calling us "feminazis" were among those who solidified, protected, expanded, and promoted women's reproductive choice?

    In fact, Feit repeated over and over again, much of his case is entirely dependent on the precedent set by Roe. If abortion becomes illegal again and women are forced to carry fetuses they don't want, he was asked, should women have the same right to refuse the financial burden of an unplanned child? He replied, "The arguments we're using here are thoroughly dependent on Roe being in place. Prior to Roe it made perfect sense to require a man to be financially responsible for an unplanned pregnancy. Without Roe, everything we're doing falls apart."

    But whether or not Roe works for these guys, the question is: Are they working against Roe, or what remains of it, by gobbling valuable media attention that might be focused on what's happening to reproductive rights and healthcare by talking about paying $500 a month to keep an unplanned kid in clothes and food?

    "We're actually asking a question of women," said Feit. "Is your stand on choice a principled stand, or does it work only when applied to you? As a progressive pro-choice man I am willing to support a woman's right to choose, but not if she's unwilling to reciprocate. I understand she's got to make the ultimate choice. But there is a disparity here that gives her complete control. So maybe there is a way to take advantage of this timing coincidence and say to pro-choice women: Are we in this thing together?"

    But how is it possible to behave as if we're in this thing together when, after 10 years of looking for a fill-in-the-blank plaintiff, Feit and company picked now to suck all the oxygen out of the news coverage of actual abortion bans around the country? "But why can't you look at it in different way?" Feit responded. "That it will bring men into the movement and strengthen the choice position. Honestly, I don't see it as men versus women. It's about broadening what choice means."

    Strategy-wise, maybe these guys are taking some of the wind out of our sails, but I don't think the fact that they're getting attention we're not means that they're doing something wrong or incompatible with our overall goals. In fact, I think they're taking their place in a discussion, a place too long left vacant because so many people were hoping to keep that place empty. I think that the best political activism is often motivated by self-interest (to some extent) and that heterosexual men claiming their angle on reproductive choice will strengthen our position.


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