Moneyed men can usually win the silence or compliance of troublesome women by paying them off. It’s news when this traditional strategy fails, as with Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and CBS chief Leslie Moonves. And even these recentlyfallen exceptions succeeded for decades in wielding their wealth and clout to keep women they’d misused at bay. Donald Trump did the same, casually tossing out hundreds of thousands of dollars to stifle at least two extra-marital flings who were threatening to tattle. His money squelched them long enough for him to win the presidency.
An Alabama teen didn’t have such a cushion of cash when his girlfriend became pregnant a couple years ago. He wanted to be a father, she didn’t want to be a mother. In defiance of his wishes, she got an abortion.
Last year the state’s voters approved a constitutional amendment affirming “the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children.” It also specified that the state constitution provides no right to an abortion.
This year the fatherless teen found a local judge willing to recognize that amendment as basis for the legal personhood of the departed fetus. The judge accepted a wrongful death lawsuit by the thwarted father against his girlfriend’s abortion clinic.
Lacking the money to induce her to comply with his preference, the young man turned to the one resource he could employ—the law. The case just began and is far from resolved, but it has flashed onto media screens nationwide and beyond.
Right-to-lifers are in ecstasy over this. They believe he will win his case in Alabama courts, although the Supreme Court would likely reverse these lower court rulings. But if Justice Ginsburg would only be agreeable enough to shuffle along to her reward, then a Trump-appointed replacement will give the court the extra vote conservatives need for a majority to uphold the fellow’s wrongful death plea.
Right-to-choosers are in a panic, or a rage or both. They see this case as a wedge designed to shatter the legal abortion principles in place since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. And they argue that the Alabama constitutional amendment fortifying the case is so vaguely worded that it could be construed to mean life begins at conception, therefore abortion is murder and no exceptions are tolerable, not for rape, incest, the woman’s health—not for anything.
Miscarriage Funerals, Sacred Sperm and Viability
These speculations tread straight into the perennial ethical and theological thickets that have long bedeviled the abortion wrangles. If human life starts at conception, does this mean death certificates must be issued and funerals held for miscarriages? And why stop at that absurdity? Some feminists have proposed (satirically perhaps) that male masturbation be criminalized because it squanders the life-giving potential of the sperm. Or as the Monty Python troupe sang in Every Sperm is Sacred from their movie The Meaning of Life:
If a sperm is wasted
God gets quite irate.
Let the heathens spill them
On the dusty ground.
God shall make them pay for
Each sperm that can’t be found.
The right-to-choosers don’t escape tangles either. Apart from those insisting that abortion must be allowed for any reason at any time (including a moment before birth would otherwise occur), “viability” marks the stage where abortion may be restricted or prohibited. Before this point the fetus is dependent on the mother for survival, but after that it is capable of life on its own. This makes it a separate viable human being, worthy of rights and protections.
But who ever actually achieves separate viability? Premature babies born far short of a normal nine month gestation can now survive—in intensive care units with highly skilled staffs and equipment. Without constant attention and intervention, they are not viable. And none of us adults are ever truly viable on our own. Take away the supporting society that constantly surrounds us, and we will all soon die.
This stark fact reveals the danger of the viability argument. If viability defines humanity, then do the gravely sick or disabled deserve care and service? They are not viable on their own. So can they be discarded? Similar questions arise about the aged and infirm. Also about the poor and the addicted.
Debaters on opposing sides in the abortion wars plainly enjoy harrowing each other over these topics. And some of their attempts to discern precisely when human life begins descend toward the Dark Ages disputes about the number of angels that could dance on a pinhead.
But they never arrive at persuasive conclusions. So the debate doesn’t produce agreement that informs policy. Instead it inflames followers on both sides and arms them with rhetorical ammunition to continue waging the abortion battles, apparently forever.
A Fair Role For Men
For relief from this vexing cycle, give men a fair role in abortion choices. Roe v. Wadeand subsequent refining decisions have given the woman alone, or in consultation with her doctor, the power to decide. And this has become the standard view for most advocates of abortion rights. But it omits any consideration for the rights of the men involved in pregnancies.
Until technology generates cloned babies in bottles, a man will always be implicated in every pregnancy. And except for rape or other coercive approaches, the launch of new life will always be a joint effort by a woman and a man.
Yet as the law and custom now stand, she alone gets to decide whether the pregnancy results in birth. The man is legally reduced to mute impotence.
But her decision will impact and alter his life. If he wants a child she aborts—as in the current Alabama case—he will likely suffer a turbulent mix of grief, anger and vengeance. Or if she gives birth to a child he doesn’t want, he can face financial liabilities for decades ahead, plus the frictions and dismays of being a father without desiring to be.
In the upper reaches of society these dilemmas rarely arise. The millionaires and billionaires—mostly males—residing there typically have much greater means at their command than the women accompanying them. Such a woman who refuses to comply with her man’s wishes about abortion can be shunted aside and replacements recruited, with lawyers, accountants and shrinks hired to sort out the messy details.
Below this level men are not so easily dominant. Their income and assets might not not exceed their women’s, which leaves them with little leverage. They could try to compensate for this with physical coercion, but that usually ends badly for all involved. Men at the very lowest level are often snared in the criminal justice system or missing from domestic settings. They get to decide almost nothing about child bearing. At these levels the men are at the mercy of whatever the women decide.
The men subject to this blatantly unfair legal regime are also largely excluded from the realms where such systems are fashioned and where they may be rectified. But this doesn’t mean these men have no way to defend themselves. They stage impulsive, informal boycotts by simply absenting themselves from sustained affiliation with their women. They are out of the house, on the streets, on the road, in the military, seeking distant work—gone.
Legally Renouncing Fatherhood
The law could promote better results than this if it gave men the right to choose whether they become fathers. This wouldn’t strip women of abortion rights. But it would prevent them from clamping fatherhood onto reluctant partners.
To accomplish this the law would have to specify that any man may formally renounce parental responsibility for any child his partner bears. This would free him from child support and other financial claims, from the child’s educational requirements, from any legal entanglements that might beset parents of a wayward child, and from all other aspects of the child’s upbringing.
It wouldn’t release him from any pangs he might later suffer from fatherhood forsaken. And it wouldn’t extinguish the yearning curiosity a child would likely develop about who and where her father is. Nor would it settle concerns about marriage, inheritance or other sectors of family law. These things would need many clarifying adjustments. But meanwhile the men involved would at least be free to choose. And the Alabama wrongful death suit, also any others like it, would be nullified because women would retain sole authority over aborting or giving birth.
Another result might be more household cohesion and harmony. If women can no longer dictate whether their men become fathers, the law will foster the lesson that couples should strive for agreement about these matters, rather than one half imposing her preference on the other. The legendary battle of the sexes will never completely cease, but this legal change should reduce the casualty rate.
Discerning the Anti-Christ
It should also draw some abortion-fevered Christians out of their Trumpian swoon. The crusade against abortion has become a foundation of their faith. This lures them into reflexive support for the rest of Trump’s rages and outrages. But they wouldn’t need to do that if liberated from their anti-abortion jihad. They would feel free to notice that Trump is the president of plutocrats like himself, not of folks like themselves.
Some of them anyhow. Like the final ISIS holdouts in Syria, a faction of them will never surrender. But others will if changes of the law give them an effective voice in accepting fatherhood or not. They will turn more willing to concede that women should have the ability to decide whether they become mothers. They will also gain a capacity to accept that the furors about precisely when life begins can never arrive at clear, agreed conclusions. So the decisions about what to do with unwelcome or surprise pregnancies must be left mainly to the best judgment of those most intimately concerned.
Then when another deadly tornado sweeps across Alabama, the scene from a couple weeks ago will not repeat. A twister had shredded trailer parks, dozens died and Trump arrived to console and preen. Survivors crowded into a church, doubling as a warehouse for relief supplies, and lifted their adoring faces to him along with their Bibles for him to sign. Next time many of those supplicants would be absent—because changes in abortion law would enable them to discern that the creature autographing Bibles was not God’s vicar on earth but the anti-Christ.