Thursday, June 13, 2013

When (cis) men can get pregnant, we'll talk

In this crazy world we live in, there are, we have now learned, female men's-rights activists. I read Laurie Schrage's op-ed on my phone, thus avoiding the pull of the comments. I tried to look at her suggestion - that men who do not consent to co-parenting shouldn't owe child-support - with an open mind, but kept coming up variations of the same problem: some counterargument or neglected angle would occur to me, and would swing me that much further back to my - and the law's - default. It's impossible not to feel for a man who oopsed his way into a lifelong obligation. But does it follow that such a man should be spared the consequences?

-The in-your-face obvious: no one forces a man to have the kind of sex with a woman that can lead to the conception of a child. Or: if he was forced (unusual but possible), then we might say that in such circumstances, he can ask for nothing to do with any potential offspring, and the court can grant that. And what exactly are men being asked to do? Are they being forced to marry the woman they've impregnated, and not sleep with anyone else, till death do they part? To take meaningful responsibility for their offspring? To parent? Not so much.

-Is it appropriate/sensible/ethical for men having casual sex to assume that the women they are having sex with would get an abortion? By 'assume' I don't mean, assume that a woman who says she would is telling the truth. I mean 'assume' in the absence of any information. And while adoption is also a possibility, the woman who has been carrying the fetus for X months might start to consider it her child, and find herself not so prepared to give it up.

-If men have not default consented to co-parent, what do we then do if a man wants nothing more than to co-parent the just-conceived fetus now residing in a woman who wants nothing to do with him or it? He also hasn't consented to an abortion. Which does get tricky. If men who favor consequence-free sex have these rights, presumably so too do men who think every last one of their sperm is sacred.

-Schrage assumes two possibilities - a man who falls more or less ass-backward into lo and behold, he has impregnated a woman whose name he hardly knows, and a man who started out as a co-parent but has bailed. Meanwhile, the more likely situation is, I suspect, that a man is the boyfriend, if not in the super-serious, 50-something-couple-who-both-went-to-Berkeley-and-live-on-the-Upper-West-Side-and-have-been-together-30-years-and-have-three-kids-but-don't-believe-in-marriage sense, still in a sense that rings serious to the parties involved. A case where man and woman alike are making assumptions - she that he's going to stick around, he that all of this isn't really going to interfere with his life several months down the line.

-The benefit of the current system, from a feminist perspective, is that it shifts some of the risks of sex from women to men, bringing the potential burden on sex faced by men somewhere closer to that which sex will always place on women. But not all that close. That women risk pregnancy with every heterosexual encounter - not to mention a greater threat of STDs, for whichever anatomical reasons; not to mention rape - is not likely to change, and does make women-on-the-whole more wary of casual sex than men-on-the-whole. (Thereby making it tough to establish whether baseline women want this sort of thing any less than men do - and yes I know there's a new book on that very question.) A woman can (in theory) decide not to bear a child, but once pregnant, she can't opt to pretend the whole thing never happened. Even women who don't think abortion is murder aren't generally so blasé about getting them. Is it, as Schrage contends, basically slut-shaming men to ask that they too remember that sex of a certain sort can produce a child?

The law, then, is perhaps less about what happens when paternity is contested - to the father, the mother, or the kid, and you have to figure that messy situations are messy - and more about sending a message to men who have not yet gotten into this situation. Which is only 'shaming' if it assumes that men have the right to consequence-free sex. Which is why 'men's rights' has such a great name, I suppose.

-A woman who consents to bearing and keeping a child doesn't consent to whatever trouble that child gives her (or draining, expensive, and tragic illnesses and disabilities that child might come to suffer from) at 3 or 8 or 15. But we assume because she had the kid, well, this is her problem. Why, then, do we not assume that because a man had the sort of sex that has been historically known on rare occasions to make a baby he has not in this same way quasi-consented to any possible outcome?

OK, someone's-wrong-on-the-internet brigade, what am I missing?

38 comments:

Andrew Stevens said...

Why, then, do we not assume that because a man had the sort of sex that has been historically known on rare occasions to make a baby he has not in this same way quasi-consented to any possible outcome?

Sounds like a pro-life argument to me.

Phoebe said...

How so? I saw this as separate from that whole debate. Once we say that men have rights in this area, they have rights in both directions. They have the right to pretend nothing ever happened (which may well encourage, but admittedly not force, a woman to get an abortion), and to insist that a woman who wants to terminate the pregnancy not do so.

If this post tilts more to pregnancies that do lead to the bearing-of-children, it's because the one's that don't aren't an issue in that op-ed. The author is for whatever reason not concerned with the men who *want* a kid to result. So for the purposes of the conversation she has set forth, a woman who terminates a pregnancy neither party sought out has simply eased things along in the optimal direction.

The issue, then, is if a woman *does* have the kid - whether because she's pro-life (which dude who slept with her might have known if he'd asked - it's not just about people being duped; also, maybe he knew but hormones outweighed saving casual sex for pro-choice partners) or because things seemed different once presented with an actual pregnancy - what the man can do.

It's entirely consistent to believe in a woman's right to choose (i.e. that abortion isn't murder) and that a person in whom the fetus does not reside must be prepared to deal with any outcome the person in whom the fetus *does* reside sees fit. As in, he'd rather not have to think about what happened? He needs to consider the fetus as a baby, a child. He thinks any fetus he's played a part in creating is a kid? He needs to remember that as long as said fetus isn't part of his body, that's not for him to make happen.

Andrew Stevens said...

She takes the position that she does because she is taking the pro-choice argument to its logical conclusion. If a fetus has no rights, then either party should be able to absolve themselves of responsibility at the point that it's still a fetus. If the man wants the baby to live, that's too bad since it's not a person yet and the potential mother has the right to kill it. But if the man doesn't want it to live, well, nobody's arguing he should be able to force the mother to abort, but certainly he should be allowed to disavow any responsibility for the child. He wanted an abortion after all. It was her unilateral decision which kept the pregnancy going.

Phoebe said...

That's not how I've understood the pro-choice argument. As I see it, it consists of two parts. One is the one you say - a fetus is not, by law, a person. But the other is the woman's-right-to-choose bit. Which indeed means that the state doesn't say either way, but the woman gets to decide from the moment of conception that damn straight that's a baby, if that's her choice. A fetus is a person if the person carrying the fetus feels that way. And if the woman's choice is yes, baby, then I'm afraid I don't see how the pro-choice argument - logical-conclusion or otherwise - says anything about absolving men of responsibilities in this area.

If anything, if you step back and look at the broader implications of what pro-choice means (that is, shifting some of the potential risks of sex from women to men), then it would seem if anything more 'pro-choice' for men to pay child-support. Because it's beside the point if the law *also* permits some other woman to have the abortion she wants. If that's not the woman this particular man has impregnated, then he's dealing with a pre-baby, not a fetus.

Andrew Stevens said...

You're virtually the only person I've ever heard make that version of the pro-choice argument. Mostly because it doesn't really work. Almost nobody values autonomy enough to grant that the fetus does have rights, but that a woman's right to convenience or autonomy is enough to allow her to kill the fetus for any superficial reason she should choose. So the usual pro-choice argument is simply to deny that the fetus has rights.

This "it's a person, but I can deny that if I want to and murder it" argument is simply not popular. In my opinion, for obvious reasons.

Phoebe said...

Really? I thought I was just spelling out what's meant by the commonly-heard expression, 'it's a woman's right to choose.' Not the state's, and not the male partner's. Choice implies that she may choose to abort, but also to have a kid.

Andrew Stevens said...

But nobody really believes that a woman has the right to choose whether a fetus has rights or not, do they? Either a fetus has rights or it doesn't. It seems to me that the slogan "a woman's right to choose" begins with the presumption that the fetus has no rights that a woman must respect. If so, then it has no rights even if she chooses to keep it.

I've yet to hear a pro-choice philosopher argue that the fetus has rights if the woman decides it does, but not if she doesn't. I'm not sure how such an argument could be made plausible.

Phoebe said...

Well, I'll concede that "rights" isn't exactly the right word for what the fetus-the-woman-decides-is-a-baby possesses. Because the fetus's baby-ness (and the male partner's lack of right to end the pregnancy) derives from the woman's choice, not from the state.

Andrew Stevens said...

Well, now I have to ask: what is your meta-ethical position? (I ask because I was talking about whether a fetus possesses moral rights, not legal rights.)

Phoebe said...

Is this a highfalutin way of asking if I think abortion is murder? Because - as I'm open about, but there's no WWPD requirement that one read all posts before commenting - I'm pro-choice. Also pro-not-having-to-make-that-choice, pro-doing-everything-possible-to-avoid-getting-in-that-situation, pro-getting-past-the-society-squickiness-about-contraception, but life happens. I don't think a fetus is a person. Reading between the lines, I'm assuming you do - correct me if I'm wrong.

But as great as it is to situate ourselves, I'm not seeing how that relates here. If one is anti-abortion, as in if one thinks it's murder, then the woman shouldn't be having one, regardless of the dead-beat-ish-ness or not of the potential father. The fetus became a baby at conception, case closed. Indeed, that's one way around the question the op-ed poses. Dude owes child-support if dudette was compelled by every moral and legal authority to have the kid. (Of course, is it so simple? Would an ideology that says a woman must carry a pregnancy to term possibly also be one that says that if she got pregnant out of wedlock, it's her own damn fault That it's women's natural role to check men's natural urges?)

But if one does not think abortion is murder, one is in no way compelled, by some "logical conclusion," to think a fetus that a particular woman views as a baby, and it's in her uterus can be dismissed with a let's-forget-that-ever-happened by the future father. This is about the rights of the mother, including the right to view her fetus as an entity it would be murder to destroy. It doesn't matter that, in this framework, society doesn't think this of fetuses generally. What matters is the particular situation, the woman this man impregnated.

Andrew Stevens said...

Is this a highfalutin way of asking if I think abortion is murder?

Forgive me. I should have been more clear; the jargon is second nature to me. I was already aware of your ethical position on abortion, obviously, just not your general moral theory.

Meta-ethics answers the question "What does it mean to say something is wrong?" So, for example, one can be a moral realist (that it actually means something to say "X is wrong" and this is true or false independently of anyone's opinion), an ethical subjectivist (moral statements are true or false depending on the attitudes or conventions of people or societies, etc.), an error theorist (we are trying to state true things when we express moral propositions, but all such propositions are false), or a non-cognitivist (who believes that no ethical sentences are either true or false because they do not express propositions). There are several subsets of each of those positions, but they're the main ones.

The reason I asked was because I was talking about moral rights and you seemed to think I was talking about legal rights. The question isn't whether the law recognizes that fetuses have rights, but whether they actually have such rights.

I don't think a fetus is a person. Reading between the lines, I'm assuming you do - correct me if I'm wrong.

My ethical position on abortion needs no concept of personhood. I think personhood is something pro-choice people made up in order to deny rights to fetuses (and, incidentally, should also deny rights to infants since there's virtually no criteria for personhood one can possibly hold which infants would qualify for, but fetuses wouldn't). I think rights derive from having valuable futures a la Don Marquis.

If one is anti-abortion, as in if one thinks it's murder, then the woman shouldn't be having one, regardless of the dead-beat-ish-ness or not of the potential father. The fetus became a baby at conception, case closed.

Yes, indeed. The pro-life side has an easy answer to this one. As I said, the writer is following the pro-choice side to its logical conclusion. The pro-life side never has to deal with this question. Of course, the father is beholden exactly as the mother is.

This is about the rights of the mother, including the right to view her fetus as an entity it would be murder to destroy.

It would take a rather bizarre meta-ethical position to justify this one. Is a mother a god that she can bestow rights on a creature by fiat? If a fetus has rights, it's wrong to destroy it. If it doesn't, it's not. Now, I can see a claim that a fetus is a woman's property, but then the rights all belong to the woman, not the fetus. So if someone killed it, she could sue on destruction of property grounds or something. Indeed, this is pretty much the Michael Tooley/Peter Singer position: fetuses (and infants) belong to the parents. The parents can dispose of them if they wish, but it's wrong for anyone else to do so because they are the moral property of the parents.

But let's follow your logic. The mother creates the rights of the fetus. In this case, she is creating the rights against the father's will. He would prefer that the fetus be destroyed so he can avoid all the problems and responsibilities. There is nothing wrong with this position (you grant), so why should he be hostage to the mother's decision to create a creature with rights? It's one thing if we assume that the fetus has rights ab initio, but it's a very different situation if these rights are being created unilaterally through an obstinate refusal to destroy the fetus.

Phoebe said...

Anyone else want to weigh in? I'm afraid I'm not following any of this. I read through this and am still not seeing how the logical conclusion of the pro-choice position as generally interpreted has anything to say about child-support, let alone how it would be more pro-woman's-right-to-choose to say that if a man wished a woman might have aborted a fetus he co-created, he has no responsibility for the baby that ultimately may result. The ethical thing - pardon the lack of jargon, or philosophical-lingo-precision - is that what matters is the view of the woman who's pregnant. It's wrong to force her to have a baby, and wrong to force her not to do so. Infants are another story, because they tend not to live inside of other people.

Meggie said...

I have nothing to add, except that I'm also wondering the same questions as you. The NYT article left me with lots of questions, and the firm belief that the author's point were not the answers. But I'm also not particularly following Andrew Stevens's comments. I'm mostly posting this comment to let you know that I'm interested in the topic as well, even if I have nothing to add. :)

Chris said...

(Long time reader and very occasional commenter). Phoebe, I guess I'm confused why you're confused. You said no one forces a man to have the kind of sex with a woman that can lead to the conception of a child. Andrew, quite correctly, points out that this precise argument is made routinely by pro-life advocates.

Now, you think that because a woman is the one who has to carry the baby to term, she should have the right to terminate the pregnancy. (I agree she should have the right, and also agree that no man should be able to force her either to carry a pregnancy to term.) But it doesn't necessarily follow that the man shouldn't have the right to avoid parental responsibilities. As far as I can tell, the argument that he shouldn't be able to is "he could avoid sex." Which goes right back to where we started...

Of course being pregnant when one doesn't want to be is a harm. But so is being on the hook for a child you don't want. Bodily autonomy is important, but violating it is hardly the only possible harm. (The crass economist in me would calculate the price of surrogate pregnancies as the "cost" to compare the magnitude of the harms, although I don't really believe that.)

(Disclaimer(?) I'm as pro-choice as they come, largely because I think the pro-life position leads to self-evidently crazy positions.)

Phoebe said...

Meggie,

Solidarity in interest, and bafflement, always welcome.

Further to Andrew,

I don't actually - as my earlier parenthetical remarks indicated - think it's a given that this issue doesn't arise under a framework where everyone agrees a fetus is a person with rights. That same framework might well also place all the responsibility for an unplanned pregnancy - and the almost inevitably resulting child - on the woman.

Andrew Stevens said...

Let me be a little more clear. We have a fetus. At least at the point that the fetus can be easily aborted, this fetus has no rights. The woman who is harboring the fetus chooses, by not aborting it, to create a being who has rights. Why should she have this unilateral right? Why should this decision have any bearing on anybody else? There is no requirement, not a legal one and, in the pro-choice view, not a moral one either, for her to bring the child to term or raise the child if she does so. She is doing so entirely for her own reasons. So, as long as the child is in the womb, why shouldn't the father have the right to legally abort it? (By which I mean simply sever his paternal rights and responsibilities, not actually killing it.) By what logic should we be compelling him to bring the child to term against his will? Why should he support a child he did not want, did not ask for, and would prefer had been aborted? Isn't that nearly the entire pro-choice argument for why women should be allowed to have abortions? In other words, why shouldn't men, just as women, be allowed to abort their children? Again, nobody is arguing that the woman should be forced to abort against her will. Just that if she chooses not to abort, that's entirely her decision and entirely her responsibility.

Let me flip it around a bit. Let us imagine a young couple where the woman got pregnant. She doesn't mind having the child, but doesn't want to raise it. He both wants to have and raise the child. Would it be all right for the two of them to make an agreement that she will bring the child to term, but then she would be allowed to sever all personal responsibility for the child? I.e. he couldn't ask her for child support or anything like that. Would that be all right? If not, why not? If so, how is that different from a mother choosing to have a child which the father does not wish to raise?

This is why I asked what your meta-ethical position was. Because I'm just not following an argument like: "If men have not default consented to co-parent, what do we then do if a man wants nothing more than to co-parent the just-conceived fetus now residing in a woman who wants nothing to do with him or it? He also hasn't consented to an abortion. Which does get tricky. If men who favor consequence-free sex have these rights, presumably so too do men who think every last one of their sperm is sacred."

But, no, the pro-choice side argues (and always has argued): it doesn't matter that the man thinks the fetus has rights, because he is wrong and the fetus has no rights. This is the whole justification for why abortion isn't wrong. I've never heard anybody before argue "a fetus has rights if the woman harboring it says it does and doesn't if she says it doesn't." I don't even know what to make of such a position. I guess it's some sort of extreme version of ethical subjectivism, but I honestly can't tell.

Andrew Stevens said...

I don't actually - as my earlier parenthetical remarks indicated - think it's a given that this issue doesn't arise under a framework where everyone agrees a fetus is a person with rights. That same framework might well also place all the responsibility for an unplanned pregnancy - and the almost inevitably resulting child - on the woman.

If a fetus has rights, the moral logic is compelling - a creature with rights already exists and the parents share responsibility for the child. However, it might be all right for one parent or the other to "adopt out" their rights and responsibilities to somebody else, if they could find someone to assume it. To their parents, for example, or to anyone else who wished to assume those responsibilities. But nobody would have the right to simply abandon the child (that would be murder), so both parents would have a moral duty to the child.

Phoebe said...

Chris,

Here's how I see it: it is, was, and always will be more of a risk for women to be sexually-active than for men to be the same. Far more is at stake, due to biology as well as culture. Pregnancy, STDs, and rape - these are not symmetrical risks. But the law can do its part to shift some of the risk from women to men. And the way that works, in this case, is that a woman does not need to think of every sexual encounter as potentially leading to a child she does not want (in theory - assuming she has access to abortion), nor does she need to worry herself with the possibility that some other entity - the man she slept with, the state - will force her not to bear a possible child. Given that all of this is happening in her body, it's not so wildly unfair that she'd get to make these determinations.

Now, is it unfair that a man who sleeps with women will have no say in what comes of a possibly-conceived fetus? (In terms of "no one forces a man to have the kind of sex with a woman that can lead to the conception of a child," it does also need to be said - as I've said elsewhere here - that a man who thinks any fetus he's co-created must stay put is in a similar bind.) There are different ways to look at this. One is that it's unfair, but a lesser evil. Another is that it forces men... not to avoid being promiscuous, but to at least communicate enough with casual partners so as to kinda-sorta know who they're dealing with.

What could potentially make the op-ed writer happy and solve the dilemma is if there were some provision for cases where a woman really does lie about contraception as vs., contraception can fail. But this would be tough to prove.

Andrew,

Of what consequence do you think it is that this human being (as you see it), the fetus, resides in the woman, the (potential) mother? That's the easy answer to "Why should she have this unilateral right?" Because it's happening in/to her body, and not anyone else's.

Chris said...

But the law can do its part to shift some of the risk from women to men.

How has it shifted risk in this case? It has created risk, relative to what it would be if the man could avoid paternity. The risk of someone being responsible for a child they do not want. I guess I don't necessarily see why equality of risk is preferable to reduction of risk and of harm.

I'm also confused by this: "nor does she need to worry herself with the possibility that some other entity - the man she slept with, the state - will force her not to bear a possible child". But as far as I can tell, the author in the NYTimes piece has no interest in forcing anyone not to bear a child, and I don't really see why you keep bringing that up. If the man declined paternity, she's absolutely as free to have the child or not as she was before. True, she'd be on the hook financially for more I suppose. But that's the exact same risk we're talking about men having here.

Andrew Stevens said...

Phoebe: I agree that this is a rights-balancing situation. I'm not saying the woman doesn't have any rights, but a very grave harm is being done to the fetus when it is aborted. The fetus is being deprived of all possible future experiences. This is why it's wrong to kill Andrew or Phoebe. Because doing so is to deprive us of our futures. Killing the fetus is the worst possible thing that can happen to it. In the vast majority of cases, the harm done to the woman (and the man who may have to take responsibility for a child he did not want) through violation of their autonomy is small by comparison. However, certainly there are situations where the fetus's right not to be deprived of its future can be counterbalanced. But, prima facie, killing a fetus is seriously wrong.

Chris: The answer to your "craziness" argument is that this is logically equivalent to saying, "People die of diseases and accidents all the time. Therefore, people don't have rights." Imagine we lived in a pandemic situation where the Black Death was sweeping through the area and we know that 80% of us will die in the next nine months. Do none of us have any rights? It would be all right to just come in and slaughter us all?

Note, though, that my pro-life argument is not a "sanctity of human life" view (which does lead to obvious contradictions) and certainly has nothing whatsoever to do with theology (I'm an atheist and am entirely uninterested in the question of whether fetuses "go to Heaven" since I don't think there is any such place). It also has nothing to do with "personhood" which I regard as a philosophical fiction. In my view, fetuses, infants, Andrew, Phoebe, and Chris are all just biological organisms.

Phoebe said...

Chris,

It reduces the risk that a woman will be forced to take on the full financial burden of raising a kid. Which is important both because of what women earn relative to men, and because a woman who's just had a baby might be incapacitated for a while/might well need to look after said baby.

And yes, it might well lead a woman to have an abortion she didn't want to have if she realized she had no way to support the child. Yes, I get that in theory, those who believe abortion is murder would never ever have one. In practice, it seems not to work that way.

But back to burden-shifting, it makes it so that men are more attentive to the possible unintended outcomes of sex. This, in turn, helps women, because it means men are more likely to use contraception, and not to refuse to wear a condom because what does it matter, any resulting kid isn't they're responsibility, right? It makes contraception a conversation a man and a woman need to have, as opposed to something only the woman must think about.

Phoebe said...

Andrew,

You've diverted a related question into a regular ol' abortion debate, and these are, alas, impossible to win for all involved. Either you think a fetus can be murdered or you do not. Either you think it's a big deal that the fetus happens to reside in a woman (impacting her hormonally, physically, etc.), or you think it's a relatively minor inconvenience to that woman - kind of like a backpack. (On this front, consider here the 'pro-life' women who get abortions when it's their womb a fetus has taken up residence in.) Personally, I see a huge, incalculable distinction between a potential baby that's inside a woman's uterus and a baby that is not inside anyone's body. But hey, that's just me (and apparently some other people as well.) You don't (and apparently some others agree with you). I won't convince you, and you won't convince me. I respect your opinion, and that's where I'll have to leave this.

Chris said...

Phoebe, I guess I find that a very strange argument on two levels. I don't really see what the harm is if someone has an abortion "they don't want" if they're financially constrained. People make decisions about parenthood all the time. Once you're committed (as we both seemingly are) to the view that abortion is morally permissible, I don't really see why having an abortion based on financial decisions is any tragedy at all.

And I don't see how a woman having to bear the child is a risk. She's choosing the child and after all, she could have just not had sex just like the man. Wasn't the objection to the NYTimes article in the first place?

Andrew, fair enough, I think that argument is clearly wrong, but it's an aside to what we're talking about here, so I don't want to get distracted here.

Chris said...

Oops. Meant to add "for financial reasons" to "People make decisions about parenthood all the time."

Phoebe said...

Chris,

I think we need to yank this conversation back to the real-life situations this is about. Yes, there are women who trick men into impregnating them, and yes, that's despicable. Yes, there are men, too, who do sneaky things with contraception, thereby impregnating women who are just dandy with protected recreational sex, but who would not have/would rather avoid having an abortion.

But what do we think is typical? More likely, I suspect, a young man and woman are oh so very in love, OMG going to be together forever, even if it's just been a month. Vague promises are made, but no legal commitments. The man bails before the baby is born. The woman has already gotten it into her head that she's going to be a mom, and she's going to have the child of a man she once felt strongly for and might still. But kids are expensive, and mean time off work. In some earlier incarnation of our society - as I think one of the NYT commenters points out (not that I've gotten to all those comments!) - a shotgun might force the man to stay put. The law doesn't do nearly as much, but does force the man to do a bare minimum. In principle, this channels some money to a child, keeping said child out of poverty.

Anyway, I think where this discussion went wrong from the get-go - that is, from the op-ed - is that there was this odd presumption that these are typically cases of women tricking one-night-stands into impregnating them, and then gold-digging these men's often paltry incomes.

Andrew Stevens said...

Phoebe: Happy to leave it there. Didn't mean to derail. (However, on the contrary, I was pro-choice until I was older than you are now. And then I read Don Marquis's Futures Like Ours argument and was compelled to accept the logic of his position.)

My original point was, if we accept Chris's (and your?) pro-choice view, it seems to me that entails the arguments made in that article. However, I was principally making a Devil's Advocate argument and I'm happy to leave it to a true believer.

But back to burden-shifting, it makes it so that men are more attentive to the possible unintended outcomes of sex. This, in turn, helps women, because it means men are more likely to use contraception, and not to refuse to wear a condom because what does it matter, any resulting kid isn't they're responsibility, right? It makes contraception a conversation a man and a woman need to have, as opposed to something only the woman must think about.

This is your best argument against, in my opinion. A strong pragmatic argument.

Andrew Stevens said...

Anyway, I think where this discussion went wrong from the get-go - that is, from the op-ed - is that there was this odd presumption that these are typically cases of women tricking one-night-stands into impregnating them, and then gold-digging these men's often paltry incomes.

Absolutely disagree with you here. She never once talked about women tricking men. She was talking about the reality of illegitimate children which is two young kids, not at all as likely as you think to be committed to each other, having recreational sex and the woman ends up pregnant. As she also pointed out, most of the "gold-digging" isn't being done by the women, but by the government trying to get reimbursed for the welfare payments it has made to the child (or trying to stop the child being eligible for welfare payments).

Andrew Stevens said...

I said "never once," but she did actually mention it in a parenthetical aside. Sorry for the hyperbole. I do totally disagree that was the tone of the article.

Chris said...

This is your best argument against, in my opinion. A strong pragmatic argument.

Agreed. My main objection was to "no one forces a man to have the kind of sex with a woman that can lead to the conception of a child", which like Andrew I think of as an old and (unlike Andrew?) wrong pro-life argument. I'm still not convinced, but I think it's a more sensible argument.

And since I'm gay and none of this really affects me at all, this seems like as good a place as any to bow out.

Petey said...

"But back to burden-shifting, it makes it so that men are more attentive to the possible unintended outcomes of sex. This, in turn, helps women, because it means men are more likely to use contraception, and not to refuse to wear a condom because what does it matter, any resulting kid isn't they're responsibility, right? It makes contraception a conversation a man and a woman need to have, as opposed to something only the woman must think about."

That conversation indeed is needed to be had.

And let's stipulate that all civilized folks agree that what a women does with her body is strictly her own business.

But once the woman makes that decision, how does it completely trump a man's ability to have any choice in the financial ramifications?

There is something called the marriage contract, which gives a man the choice to participate financially in any offspring.

But absent that contract, or any kind of theoretical sub-marriage 'reproductive contract', the choice of financial responsibility is simply taken away from the man without any consent.

Unplanned pregnancy outside of marriage from the man's POV can occur through accident, negligence on the part of either partner, or indeed, deception on the part of either partner. At that point, all choice in terms of financial ramifications is vested in the woman, with zero choice vested in the man.

That seems kinda screwed up to me. Again, I'm all for a woman to have full choice over her body, but the full "burden-shifting" in terms of financial ramifications you advocate is problematic on many levels in a world where gender equality is valued.

Solutions to the problem are not obvious. But giving women sole discretionary power over the financial ramifications for their unmarried partners over a pregnancy conceived under any possible conditions (including non-consensual on the part of the man) seems poorly thought out to me. And if one gets deeper into the implications behind the impulse, it seems antagonistic to the broader gender equality project.

Phoebe said...

Andrew,

What I'm trying to convey - and here I, in turn, might play the age card, as the young-and-reckless stage of life probably does seem more recent to me, if, as you say, I'm younger than you are - is that there are relationships that feel very serious when you're 16, 19, etc., but that by adult standards are clearly doomed to fail.

All,

I think we need to look at the default scenario as indeed an unintentional pregnancy. Not as trickery - which, remember, can come from either party - but as an unintended (if not entirely unpredictable) outcome.

In that case, no man can ever, ever know what he would do if this were happening in his uterus. (Again, the pregnant transmen exception.) Nor, for that matter, can women who've never been pregnant unintentionally know that because they are pro-choice, they would have an abortion - or, conversely, that because they think abortion is wrong, they wouldn't have one under certain circumstances. Not because men lack empathy, or because women change their mind all the time. Because the profundity of things this important happening inside your own body, of all of this being you, is just that great. Point being, no man can really say what he would do if this weren't just a kid, but a pregnancy.

And for Petey, re: gender equality, there's the fact that a) that utopia has yet to arrive, and b) the great question of who's to make sure this woman isn't living in the gutter when pregnancy and having a young baby make her incapable of working for however long. A really robust socialism could be your answer - if it straight-up didn't matter if there was a second parent helping with the bills. But we're talking about the country we live in.

Andrew Stevens said...

Phoebe: I remember well the young and reckless stage of my life. In 90% of my sexual encounters which could have resulted in pregnancy, I had no commitment to the woman whatsoever. It's not that I don't recall feeling serious and committed in certain specific relationships which, in retrospect, were doomed, but that I think you are underrating how many casual sexual encounters occur, particularly in those social groups where pregnancy occurs most often.

Phoebe said...

Andrew,

The way the age card works is, if you get to tell me I'm too young to understand A, then I get to tell you you're too old to remember B. (Actually, I have no idea how old you are, and am inclined to assume personal experience here is far too subjective to be of much use - certainly personal in terms of the level you've now brought this to - and that age is irrelevant to our opinions here.)

More substantively, I wouldn't be so quick to assume higher socioeconomic status means fewer casual encounters. If anything, I think the issue is, among the rich/relatively rich/fancy-college-going, there's a mutual sense on the part of young men and women alike that things must be strictly casual. And there's less likely to be a situation where a 19-year-old woman thinks this guy is The One and she should have his kid. And what the men in this situation think their level of commitment is might not match up with things they've said in the heat of the moment.

But this was funny to me, in the comments to that op-ed, the notion that upper-class/UMC people have very few sex partners. I'd thought the stereotype was that there's this hook-up culture that now extends beyond college. I had no idea this parallel stereotype of that class as altogether chaste existed. The reality's probably somewhere in between, with plenty of individuals at both extremes. And of course, not all sexual encounters are going to involve an act that could lead to pregnancy.

caryatis said...

Ideally, shouldn't men ask women about birth control before having sex? Seems like the sensible thing to do, yet I don't think I've had that conversation with any man after the first.

caryatis said...

I'm sympathetic to the men's-rights argument here. The problem is that so few men or women are ever completely upfront about whether they want a child, especially with casual sex. So it's a little disingenuous for a man who never even talked about potential pregnancy with a woman to claim he did not consent to being a father. But it's not fair for a woman to have a child without bothering to inform its father of her intent.

I mean, the solution would be for everyone to adopt my ultra-cautious middle-class values and use effective birth control and have conversations about their intent. Not a realistic solution, though.

I do think it might actually be better for low-income women if there was no assumption that a child's father must automatically pay child support. Could this encourage women to be more selective about who they reproduce with? Maybe men who explicitly say they would be willing to fill a parental role would be better fathers and better, longer-lasting partners than men who become fathers solely because their girlfriends happened to get pregnant.

Andrew Stevens said...

Phoebe: I never told you that you were too young to understand anything. The only time I brought up age was to remark that I changed my mind on abortion after I was older than you are now. I suppose I can see how you could take that as an age argument, but obviously there are plenty of people my age who either A) changed their minds the other way or B) still have the same opinion they have always had. (Indeed, that latter category is surely the most numerous.) Changing my mind didn't have anything to do with what age I was; I just mentioned what age I was so you didn't think I changed my mind when I was 18 or something. An 18 year old changing his mind wouldn't necessarily refute your argument that "these are, alas, impossible to win for all involved" since presumably you would already freely grant that very young people are an obvious exception.

My own meta-ethical positions predicts that people will sometimes have irresolvable moral conflicts so I sympathize with your position that this could be one of them. But arguments from analogy, thought experiments, and appeals to more basic intuitions can have a very long reach. For example, I think a lot of people do buy the argument Chris linked to above, but my analogy (along with a distinction between duties of beneficience and non-maleficience) knocks it flat. I don't expect that to change very many people's minds since they probably have other arguments for their position as well and are simply using that as a convenient argument, but I at least would expect them to realize the flaw in that particular argument.

choiceone said...

My rationale works rather like a good old abortion rights argument, but with additions.

If the woman wants to continue the pregnancy but give the child up for adoption, the man has the right to keep the child. If she wants to keep the child, he has the right to visitation. She has custody because breastfeeding is in the interest of the child's health. He has the right to custody if she is found to be an unfit mother.


The man should not be compelled to pay child support unless the woman lets him off the hook or have his name on the birth certificate. He should have the right to opt out, and that would, in fact, be an equivalent of the right to choose abortion.

Why should the man not have a right to force the woman to continue the pregnancy? For the same reason that the government does not have that right. If you don't like the polite Supreme Court decision, go read Judith Jarvis Thompson or Eileen McDonagh.

Even if the zygote~fetus were declared a person in law, it simply has no legal right to use the woman's body for life support because no person (not even your born kids) has the right to do that without your consen.

And consent to sex really isn't consent to pregnancy. Consent to sex is consent to a specific penetration for a limited duration by a specific person, not to that person's kids, different types of penetration, and a 9-month period.

The pro-choice argument will always win legally.

caryatis said...

choiceone, I agree with most of what you say, except:
1) breastfeeding is not an adequate reason to give a woman custody. It's only beneficial till around six months of age. And what if she can't or doesn't want to breastfeed?
2) A man should be asked to consent to paternity or not well before a birth certificate exists--ideally before pregnancy. But this again gets into the problem I mentioned, that so few people really discuss these things beforehand, and so few make fully conscious and thought-out decisions. Hence why women still need abortion even though they have access to birth control. But I can't see what the male equivalent would be.