Last week, it was announced that a new form of male birth control will begin human trials next year. This is very good news, as many men find condoms to be uncomfortable or burdensome, many women don’t like the side effects of hormonal contraceptives, and the pull-out method continues to be a very unreliable way to avoid a pregnancy. It is a relief to consider that my partner (and every heterosexual male I know) may soon have this option available to him, which is less invasive and more reversible than a vasectomy.
Access to birth control is an issue I care deeply about. Men seriously need more options to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Perhaps one of the reasons I care so much is because I live in Los Angeles, a city teeming with gold diggers who can weaponize a pregnancy faster than they can list the names of the Kardashian sisters. More likely though, I simply empathize with the fear of unplanned pregnancy.
As a woman, unplanned pregnancy seriously scares the shit out of me. There are numerous reasons for this, and you can find any feminist blog to tell you why my right to contraception and my right to an abortion are so essential to my quality of life. I am tremendously grateful for 1972’s Eisenstadt v. Baird for ruling in favor of my right to possess contraception and 1973’s Roe v. Wade for establishing my right to have an abortion. I am profoundly lucky to live in a time where an unwanted pregnancy does not have to change my life irreversibly.
But I am reminded that men don’t have that right.
In the past, there was, among some, a sentiment that men have the orgasms, and women have the babies. In a time when a woman inevitably had to carry and bear a child whether or not she wanted to, it made sense to demand that the father also be responsible and provide for his child. However, the groundbreaking court cases that won women the right to prevent or terminate a pregnancy also brought us a bit of a predicament; a woman can choose not to be a parent, but if she chooses to become a parent, the father has no legal say in whether or not he becomes one also.
It doesn’t matter if he only met her for a one night stand or didn’t know about the pregnancy. Or if he offered to pay for the abortion, or has no right to his child at all. Even a non-traditional sperm donor found himself responsible for a kid he had signed away all right to. The state, even without the cooperation of the mother, will compel a man to provide financial support for his child or potentially send him to jail. All other parenting metrics aside, he’s a father.
I’m not sure we’re done progressing if we’ve stopped at women choose to be parents, men sign checkbooks.
As a feminist, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the gender role expectations in this whole thing. If we’re going to stop assuming women are the nurturers, we may want to consider the idea that men aren’t necessarily the providers.
Now, men have absolutely no right to determine what a woman does with her body. Her right to have an abortion—or not—is solidly her decision and hers alone, for it is her body that bears the consequences of either option. However, in the interest of self-ownership, men have a stake: the reward for their work (their pay) being taken to support a child they did not want.
Simply put, there ought to be some way to choose not to be a father. Paternity disestablishment helps if you’re wrongly identified as the father of a child, but not if you are the parent and don’t wish to be. There have been suggestions to have a window of time available for fathers to “decline” parenthood. Political philosopher Elizabeth Brake published a detailed defense of a man’s right to choose.
I’m not sure if we need to look at sperm donor legislation or adoption procedures for our standards reference or exactly what stipulations need to be in place, but I am willing to hear ideas and am happy to support good ones. In the meantime, there’s not enough conversation about this and how we can solve the problem of unwanted fatherhood. I’m happy to see more options for male contraception, and I hope men realize that women who fear unwanted pregnancy can be terrific allies on the topic.
Ultimately, forced fatherhood has no place in a free society. I am profoundly grateful that I will never be forced to be a parent against my will; it’s time to make sure that everybody can say the same.